Commentary: Religious authoritarianism is a form of political extremism


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Americans have been slow to wake up to the fact that religious extremism is a form of political extremism. Religious authoritarianism substitutes the decision-making of a private religious clique for the decision-making of the people’s public representatives in a democracy.

The same thing that happened in Gaza when Hamas took over the government there without elections is happening in America with the far-right “Freedom Caucus” takeover of the U.S. Congress. The outcome of such a takeover here can be seen in a recent successful attempt by a wannabe president to substitute an unnamed future policy on the pressing border crisis for the policy hammered out in good faith by a bipartisan group of congresspersons.

The MAGA political faction in America has at its base an anti-democracy faction of the Christian church in America. This faction essentially turns religious freedom into religious fascism, whereby it alone has freedom of policy-making, and other groups of religious and non-religious Americans get a seat at the back of the bus or no seat at all.

The MAGA evangelical faction participates in violent political initiatives like the Jan. 6, 2021, attempted takeover of the national government and many local initiatives to take over state governments, including election gerrymandering, firing of local public prosecutors, takeover of school boards and objection to any reasonable compromise on the abortion issue.

Donald Trump is exploiting the evangelicals to get the authoritarian power he wants, and the evangelical Jesus folks are exploiting Trump to get the religious policies they want.

America has a huge blind spot here, and that is why the Trump/Jesus coalition has been so successful in sowing chaos. America believes fervently in religious freedom, and so we naturally want to turn a blind eye to every initiative sponsored by religious folk, thinking they have the absolute freedom to do whatever they want.

There is a previous test case of this worldview in our own history. In 19th century America, the Mormon religion legitimized polygamy, and civic authorities had to decide to do something to limit the extent of religious freedom or to do nothing. Rather than allow the Mormons to roll out an illegal marriage policy for America (bigamy was against the law), the government decided Mormons had to jettison polygamy.

Today, far-right evangelical Christians have decided upon an agenda that keeps a small clique comfortably in power over a huge nation of 335 million diverse people. Their platform roughly includes the following planks: an embryo is a person with full civil rights protections; vaccines don’t save people in a pandemic, only Jesus saves; citizens must have access to AR-15 rifles or they have no rights at all; public school with its emphasis on science, critical thinking and civics education must become an arm of the evangelical Christian church with an emphasis on evangelical Christian prayer and clean school libraries; the tax burden of wealthy Americans must be reduced or eliminated altogether; white folks are biologically superior to people of color and are favored in heaven; and America must roll back its current policy of equality for women to a policy of homemaking in a context of dystopian male authoritarianism, as dramatically portrayed in Katie Britt’s Republican Response to Biden’s State of the Union address.

The philosophy behind all this is that the kingdom of God is superior to and must exercise sovereignty over the governments of the people like the pope did during the Middle Ages.

The heart of a religious extremist movement like this is that they want to eliminate as enemies of heaven those who threaten their own plans for hegemony and they must crusade against others who are not ideologically pure like themselves, even if it means collateral damage to many civilians.

Kimball Shinkoskey lives in Woods Cross, Utah.

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