Why Theocratic Nationalism Imbues GOP Debates: A Look at American Values
Perhaps we have become so numb to the political circus by now that we don’t notice the extreme, but the Saturday November 19th GOP Presidential candidate Thanksgiving Family Forum (not really a “debate”) in Iowa was more about religious identity than anything to do with Presidential responsibilities or the practice of governance. Indeed, one can’t think of any other Western nation where such a gathering of supposedly serious candidates in a major party (a party which has controlled the Presidency more often than not in the past 40 years), running for the top executive position, would have been so religion-centered, or if such an event occurred wouldn’t be seen as a real oddity.
Conceivably in the Islamic world’s few democracies one might expect such a mixture of religion and politics, but in the West?
Just a few examples of the inherently theocratic worldview held by these candidates (Here’s a link to the entire video from Nov. 19th):
Firstly Rick Santorum - he mentions Shari’ah disparagingly (and thus plays on the anti-Islam bigotry in much of the American right) but he then launches into discussions about basing our American laws on the Bible. Truth is Santorum does want Shari’ah - he just doesn’t want the Arabic word or certain Islamic idiosyncrasies; he’d rather have his English words (“Judeo-Christian Values”) and Christian idiosyncrasies.
Ron Paul, not to be outdone, pulls out a lesson from the Old Testament and lauds the values of patriarchy (yes, really) compared to what he fears America has become today. Watch the above video starting at 2:20. It’s a question about a “Marriage Amendment” (to the US Constitution) and whether Paul would support such. He says he would prefer that these issues be handled by the states but then goes on to state (2:21) a personal desire regarding the subject matter (apparently marriage and homosexuality) - that it dealt with by the church, and gives a sermonette from Israel’s ancient tales of what happened before the establishment of a King (in the time of Samuel), as he raises the fear of UN takeover of marriage (yes, Really.) And at 2:23 Ron Paul expressly lauds the ancient Israelite patriarchal system of society, as something that is better than what we have now.
None of the other candidates objected to Paul’s sermonette or preference for patriarchy, probably because they don’t see anything wrong with it.
Ron Paul, running for the most senior elected position in a government set up to choose leaders via democracy, wishes for a Patriarchy.
That’s what we’re dealing with here, in this GOP field.
How did we come to this?
Just two days before that GOP gathering the Pew Global Trust released results of an ongoing (multi-year) survey of several nations’ self-identity: The American-Western European Values Gap. In this survey several questions were asked this spring in many countries, and this report details some results from 5 different Western nations, including the US.
Of the various results obtained, perhaps this one is the most telling:
© Pew Global
And the Pew analysis:
American Christians are more likely than their Western European counterparts to think of themselves first in terms of their religion rather than their nationality; 46% of Christians in the U.S. see themselves primarily as Christians and the same number consider themselves Americans first. In contrast, majorities of Christians in France (90%), Germany (70%), Britain (63%) and Spain (53%) identify primarily with their nationality rather than their religion.
In Britain, France and Germany, more Christians now see themselves in terms of their nationality than did so five years ago, when national identification was already widespread in these countries. […]
Among Christians in the U.S., white evangelicals are especially inclined to identify first with their faith; 70% in this group see themselves first as Christians rather than as Americans, while 22% say they are primarily American. Among other American Christians, more identify with their nationality (55%) than with their religion (38%).
This is very important and explains what we saw at the Thanksgiving Family Forum. The GOP candidates we saw are all vying for those white evangelicals who see themselves first as Christians rather than as Americans.
The Pew survey has many other (mostly expected) results, and I propose they all pretty much follow from the above characteristic of Americans, or from one of the following:
© Pew Global
© Pew Global
The importance of religion in American life cannot be over-emphasized in understanding American politics and especially the GOP.
The reason the GOP candidates on Saturday talked so much about God is because, besides being highly religious themselves (or at least their public persona are such,) they know that their constituents are also. In America, if you want to talk about morality to the public you have to include “God”. That is why President Obama does “God Bless America” at the end of his speeches.
Suggest reading the entire Pew PDF on the survey for other insights. There is much to be mined in there, and much of it relates to the political struggles we see playing out daily in our media, such as use of force abroad, and the role of the UN. There are some demographic breakdowns of the US responses, and tables of the 5 nations’ results for the questions over a 9 year period.
As Pew has been conducting this survey for some years now there are some trends being evaluated. Note that over time the US is slowly becoming less religious, and while the GOP candidates’ emphasis on religion is still similar to many Americans’ the trend is against this religious worldview. It is however a slow change, very slow, and I wonder if some future event could reverse the dawdling trend towards modernity in America?