Like a cornered animal, which turns instinctively to confront pursuing predators, the Christian Right, knowing it represents the views of an ever shrinking number of Americans, is engaged in an existential fight to the death. Veto or no veto, Arizona’s anti-gay bill is just another of its many efforts to transform America’s secular democracy into a tyrannical theocracy.
The Christian Right’s dirty little secret is they are acutely aware that changing demographics are running against them. While they may believe the earth is a mere few thousand years old, they’re not complete idiots. They can read polls, and the data tells them this: millennials are abandoning religious belief. According to a recent Pew survey, one in four Americans born after 1981 hold no religious belief, which is nearly double the national rate of atheism. Other studies confirm this trend, including a recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute showing more than half of non-religious Millennials have abandoned their childhood faith.
With this in mind, the nation’s radical religious fundamentalists see an ever-shrinking window to impose their Bronze Age worldview on the gay, atheist, liberal, immigrant, heathen, and science book-reading masses. The American Taliban is as deeply troubled by the thoughts of a gay man “sneaking a peak” of a heterosexual man in an NFL locker room as much as they’re freaked out over seeing Cam and Mitchell, the gay couple on "Modern Family," adopt an Asian child. For the intellectual infants of the American species, progressive culture is nothing more than a 24/7 infomercial for gay sex and abortion. That frightens our unfriendly theocrats because biblical fundamentalists are more concerned with the goings on in the bedrooms of others than they are within the guilt-ridden, sexless confines of their own.
Brian Beutler writes that measures like Arizona’s SB1062 bill have emerged in a number of states out of “a wellspring of conservative panic about the country’s abrupt legal and cultural evolution into a society that’s broadly tolerant of gay people.” He adds, “Rather than deny the shift, or stop at trying to reverse it in legislatures, the courts and at ballot boxes, conservatives are instead attempting to erect a legal architecture that will wall them off from the growing portion of American society that supports equal rights for gay people.”
These “religious freedom” bills did not arrive here overnight; they are three decades in the making. Prior to the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976, no serious presidential candidate ever claimed to have been “born again,” and the emphasis of faith for a politician seeking high office was as rare then as a candidate declaring his atheism is today. When Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson established the Christian Right (aka the Moral Majority) in 1979, no serious political commentator believed they could play a significant role in electoral politics. The screenwriter Norman Lear joked, “The Moral Majority is neither the moral point of view, nor the majority.”
Long story short, the Christian Right swept Ronald Reagan into the White House in 1980. The Sarasota Journal wrote as much on Feb 9, 1981: “The merging of the political right with the religious right has taken the country by surprise.” It’s now 2014, and the most intellectually and morally stunted segment of American society continues to take this nation by surprise.
The Christian Right has not only moved from the fringes to become the main strain of the Republican Party; it is the Republican Party. These radicals continually surprise us for the fact casual political observers mistakenly believe they represent the far-right fringe. You cannot sugarcoat the fact that a majority of Republicans in Arizona’s House, and also a majority of Republicans in Arizona’s Senate voted for this anti-gay law. Likewise a majority of Republicans in Kansas’ House voted for a similar bill. They voted for it because they want the freedom to discriminate against individuals they claim the Bible finds abhorrent.
Worryingly, this act is a small part in a big pantomime to transform America into a theocratic nirvana—one that is absent gays, Muslims, immigrants, atheists, and science books. To achieve this, the instrument of choice is nullification. It is nullification of the federal government that weds theocrats together with libertarians and the neo-confederate movement. Since 2010, state legislatures have put forward nearly 200 bills challenging federal laws its sponsors deem unconstitutional. Typically, laws the nullifiers believe challenge “religious liberty,” the Affordable Care Act, and gun control.
In an editorial for Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall observes that since the election of Obama and the rise of the Tea Party, “there's been more and more reaching back to the discredited ideas of nullification, interposition and even, at the truly fringe extreme, secession. They are each efforts to preserve power for disempowered minorities after they've lost battles in the standard majoritarian system. More simply, they're workarounds to get out of the consequences of losing political fights. And by definition they are rearguard actions. American history and constitutional jurisprudence has consistently ruled against them.”
Marshall is right in part. But the point he misses is that elections are no longer determined by majority view, but rather by the availability of an endless pipeline of campaign cash, and on that social conservatives are no longer playing second fiddle to establishment Republicans. Thanks to Internet fundraising and changes to campaign finance laws, it’s now a case of the tail wagging the dog. According to the Federal Electoral Commission, Tea Party and social conservative groups raised nearly three times as much as GOP establishment groups in 2013, which is how you end up with a majority of Republicans in both houses of the Arizona congress voting for SB1062 in 2014.
Salon's Beutler writes, “The bad news is that this phenomenon isn’t limited to homophobia, and doesn’t always masquerade as an exercise of religious freedom. As America grows more liberal, conservatives are retreating into a variety of interlinking, but isolated subcultures and, when necessary, making or manipulating law to insulate themselves from contact with the masses.”
The Christian Right’s ideology drives virtually all social policy debate within the Republican Party, whether it's immigration, women’s reproductive rights, the death penalty, or same-sex marriage.
Chris Hedges says the Christian Right’s ideology calls for the “eradication of social 'deviants,' beginning with gay men and lesbians, whose sexual orientation, those in the movement say, is a curse and an illness, contaminating the American family and the country. Once these 'deviants' are removed, other 'deviants,' including Muslims, liberals, feminists, intellectuals, left-wing activists, undocumented workers, poor African-Americans and those dismissed as 'nominal Christians'—meaning Christians who do not embrace this peculiar interpretation of the Bible—will also be ruthlessly repressed. The 'deviant' government bureaucrats, the 'deviant' media, the 'deviant' schools and the 'deviant' churches, all agents of Satan, will be crushed or radically reformed. The rights of these 'deviants' will be annulled. 'Christian values' and 'family values' will, in the new state, be propagated by all institutions. Education and social welfare will be handed over to the church. Facts and self-criticism will be replaced with relentless indoctrination.”
While the Christian Right is becoming the dwindling minority, it remains an existential threat to civil rights, secularism and our democratic values. It's a threat fueled by a seemingly unlimited supply of campaign finance, and a rabid base that believes it’s fighting for its place in a 21st-century world it can’t reconcile against an ancient book that says gays are an abomination. You know, like shellfish.