Holiday season is in full swing, which means it’s time for American culture to get even more aggressively religious than usual, which is saying a lot. Angels, Jesus, miracles, usually good TV shows coughing up saccharine episodes with morally pat endings: For those of us who aren’t big fans of syrupy religiosity, the last month of the year is hard to take, no matter how many presents you get to make up for it. There’s a lot of religious self-congratulation going on, so as a corrective, here’s a list of 9 terrible things religion has brought upon American culture. To be clear, as many religious people also have their problems with some of the excesses of Christianity in America, this is more a reminder of the problems with those excesses than some kind of slam on religious people generally.
1. War on Christmas hysteria
It’s become an annual tradition, along with Christmas pop-up shops and holiday shopping specials: Fox News trying to scare their viewers into thinking the evil liberals are going to steal Christmas from them. This year, so far, the culprits are Muslims wanting their own holidays,women who dare complain if holiday stress gets to them, and Obama for supposedly not being gung-ho enough. (Reality check: The Obama White House has, if anything, upped the ante for White House Christmas decorating.)
All of this dishonest panic about the imminent demise of Christmas is little more than an excuse for conservative Christians to get even more aggressive. By redefining every reasonable limit on their proselytizing or attempt at being more inclusive as somehow “oppression,” they’re able to shove their religion on others in the guise of resisting this imaginary oppression.
2. Terrible social safety net
The Jesus Christ of the Bible is forever going on about the need to clothe and feed the poor, but the Jesus Christ of the right-wing imagination is just as quick to kick a homeless person as he is to give him a meal. One of the biggest projects of fundamentalist Christianity of the past few decades is to create a religious justification for slashing the social safety net. That’s why conservative Christians tend to ignore the hundreds of verses in the Bible about feeding the poor and focus instead on a single verse, 2 Thessalonians 3:10, which reads, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”
This verse, in context, is little more than Apostle Paul laying out the community-specific rules for a church during his era--basically saying that everyone in the church should pitch in and help--but conservative Christians have exploited the hell out of this verse to justify all manner of starving the poor and casting them out to sleep in the cold. Megachurch pastor John Hagee interprets the verse to mean that welfare should be ended. Rep. Kevin Cramer whips the verse out to justify starving SNAP-dependent children. And Rep. Stephen Fincher does the same, even though he wasn’t against taking millions in government aid himself, in the form of farm subsidies.
One of the most peculiar ways conservative Christians try to assert cultural dominance in the U.S. is to reject the theory of evolution and instead insist on some sort of Biblical literalism that suggests humans were created by God instead of evolved over time. Because of this, only Turkey has lower rates than the U.S. in the Western world of acceptance of the theory of evolution. Unfortunately, conservative Christians refuse to limit themselves to simply believing weird stuff. Instead, creationists are forever trying to find new ways to push their religious beliefs off as “science” in science classrooms, even though the courts have firmly told them they really can’t be doing this.
4. Battles over proselytizing in schools
Creationism is just a small part of a larger, ongoing hunger the Christian right has for access to children in public schools. The First Amendment should forbid exploiting the fact that kids are required to go to school to foist Christian beliefs on them, but the lure of all that captive audience means conservative Christians keep trying.
In a recent example, the school district in Orange County, Florida, thought they’d be clever and merely “allow” a Christian group to pass out literature at the high schools, by exploiting a loophole that says proselytizing is okay so long as all groups get to it. Their bad faith, however, was swiftly exposed when the Satanic Temple demanded equal access to the children, forcing the school to reconsider their pro-proselytization policy.
5. Convincing people to vote against their own self-interests
The 2014 midterm elections were strange, in that nearly every time voters had a chance to vote directly on legislation--such as raising the minimum wage--they voted for the liberal side, but somehow Republicans still swept the elections. There are many complex reasons for this, but one of the most straightforward is that this is the problem with religiosity. Republicans thump the Bible hard and frequently, and that causes a lot of people to believe that a vote for Republicans is a “Christian” vote. The fact that Republicans refuse to walk the walk--attacking the poor to fluff up the coffers of the wealthy every chance they get--matters little. The religiosity is skin deep, but that’s all it needs to be to get votes.
6. Christian “entertainment”
The sense that “the world” is corrupt and sinful has led many conservative Christians to feel uncomfortable with--or boycott entirely--mainstream music, TV shows and movies. This, in turn, has created one of the great scourges of American culture: explicitly Christian entertainment. When wholesomeness is prioritized over quality, no big surprise, quality suffers. Thus there’s an endless outpouring of crappy Christian movies (sometimes with Kirk Cameron!), terrible Christian music that weakly rips off mainstream music, and even fourth-rate Christian comedians peddling deeply unfunny humor. You almost feel sorry for the people that have to endure this nonsense, but then again, they bring it on themselves.
7. Faith healing
One of the saddest aspects of the grand American tradition of competitive piety is how many charlatans gleefully exploit people’s desire to be the most faithful to squeeze them for their money and/or loyalty. Faith healing is one of the biggest scams going, with the so-called healers conning the true believers, who often have serious health problems, into believing that all they need to get better is pray. In some cases, the belief that all you need is prayer goes so deep that parents have allowed their children to die of preventable causes rather than take them to a doctor, a practice that is sadly legal in many states.
8. The modern Republican Party
Many political observers are prone, at times, to wonder how it is that the Republican Party of the mid-20th century seems to have disappeared entirely. Gone are Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower or Gerald Ford, who while certainly conservative, at least seemed to feel somewhat beholden to things like “facts” or “desire to govern,” and instead it seems like every new crop of Republican politicians going into office is nuttier than the last.
This is almost entirely due to religion. The past few decades have been a stampede of religious fanatics into high office. The results are disturbing: Congressional panels convened to push the idea that contraception is some great moral evil, Congress forbidding the EPA from consulting actual scientists on science questions, anti-science fanatics heading science committees, anything Michele Bachmann had to say during her stint in Congress. Sure, some of the anti-fact ideology of the Republican Party isn’t about religious claims--even some non-believing conservatives deny the reality of climate change--but the Bible thumpers and their insistence that conviction matters more than facts really helped get the Republican Party to a place where politicians feel confident ignoring inconvenient facts entirely.
9. Rape culture
Most of us are fully aware of how conservative Christian hostility to reproductive rights and gay rights is setting back progress, but it’s also true that Christianity plays a big role in making it hard to address the problem of sexual assault. Many conservative Christians eagerly spread the discredited myth that women make up rape in order to “cover up” for having consensual sex, which is what Rep. Todd Akin was doing when he claimed women cannot get pregnant from “legitimate rape.” But more than that, because of their hang-ups about sexuality, conservative Christians generally get wrapped up in the idea that the problem with sexual violence is less the violence part and more the sex part.
Witness, for instance, National Review writer Carl Eric Scott, when he writes about the problem of rape: He assumes that the problem is not forced sex, but consensual sex, and his “solutions” to the rape problem are all centered around trying to discourage consensual sex. It’s a little like arguing that the way to stop a mugging problem is to discourage gift-giving. Unfortunately, because they keep injecting their anti-sex agenda into the discourse about rape, conservative Christians continue to confuse the issue about what exactly causes rape, by leading people to believe it’s just about too much sex when it’s actually about power and domination.