Skip navigation

Daily Archives: October 1st, 2021

Noah Berlatsky  4 days ago

On Friday, congressional representatives got into a screaming match on the Capitol steps about, among other things, Christianity. High-volume theological disputes aren’t generally illuminating. But this one showed how Christianity remains a moral bedrock of political dispute in this country — and why that’s a bad thing.

The argument began following the passage of a House bill that would codify abortion rights into law. Right-wing conspiracy theorist and anti-abortion advocate Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., began to yell somewhat incoherently at gathered lawmakers and demonstrators. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., a supporter of abortion rights, yelled back at Greene that she was being uncivil.

“You should practice the basic thing you’re taught in church: respect your neighbor,” Dingell shouted. Greene blasted back, “Taught in church, are you kidding me? Try being a Christian and supporting life!” Dingell responded, “You try being a Christian… and try treating your colleagues decently!”

Dingell thinks being a Christian means being neighborly and civil. Greene thinks being a Christian means attacking anyone who supports abortion rights. But they both agree that being a Christian is morally good, and that Christianity is virtuous.

For a Jewish atheist like myself, that framework is wearisomely familiar. It’s also disheartening. Despite Dingell’s best intentions, the equation of Christianity and goodness buttresses Greene’s white Christian nationalism and the politics of hate and hierarchy that go along with it.

About two thirds of Americans describe themselves as Christian. So it makes sense that people in public life would frame Christianity as a good thing. Christians may disagree strongly about what the Christian virtues are, but they agree that Christian virtues are, well, virtues. That’s part of what being a Christian means.

Many of us, though, aren’t Christian, and don’t want to try to be Christian. Just to take one example: Jewish people’s experience of Christian morality has not been universally uplifting, to say the least.

Some will argue that antisemitism is not real Christianity. But you can’t just disavow a couple of thousands years of persecution and hate. And if Christianity equals virtue, where does that leave Jewish people — or Muslims, or atheists, or Buddhists, for that matter?

Of course there are good Christians, as there are good people of every faith, and of no faith. But one of the hallmarks of immoral forms of Christianity is a belief that Christianity can only be good — and that the good can only be Christian.

This is the logic of Marjorie Taylor Greene and the rabidly Trumpist politics she represents. Sociologist Philip Gorski argued in a 2019 article that evangelical white Christians loved Trump not despite his violent and scabrous language, but precisely because he told them they were better than everyone else. Evangelicals, Gorski said, responded to “Trump’s racialized, apocalyptic, and blood-drenched rhetoric.” That rhetoric harkened back to the Christian language deployed to justify slavery and Native American genocide.

Trump told white evangelical Christians that they had a right and a duty to impose their morality, through force, on others. Marjorie Taylor Greene is following through on a tradition of dispossession and cruelty when she insults abortion supporters or tries to seize control of people’s bodies in the name of a higher morality.

Deb Dingell’s Christianity would seem to be more inclusive — her definition of loving thy neighbor translates politically into policy (same-sex marriage, abortion rights, etc.) that Marjorie Taylor Greene abhors. But nonetheless, it also, inadvertently, reinforces one of the chief tenets of white Christian nationalism — the idea that Christianity has a monopoly on virtue.

Christianity is a powerful and important tradition in the U.S.; it shouldn’t just be left to the Greene’s and the Trump’s. But part of contesting their hold on Christianity is refusing to acquiesce to Christian supremacy. It means acknowledging non-Christians in discussions of America, and in discussions of goodness.

Marjorie Taylor Greene is, unfortunately, still a Christian when she spews ugly antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jewish space lasers. She’s still a Christian when she attacks her colleagues. She’s still a Christian when she tries to force people to give birth because of her own particular convictions about souls and cell clusters. But being a Christian doesn’t make you a good person, just as being a good person doesn’t make you a Christian. When we, including Dingell, accept that, maybe we’ll be closer to defeating the evil, violent and Christian movement of which Greene is a part.


Please Donate


September 30, 2021
Heather Cox Richardson
Oct 1
Tonight, President Joe Biden signed into law a bill that extends funding for the government until December 3, 2021. The government won’t shut down tomorrow.In the Senate, Republican Tom Cotton (R-AR) tried to amend the measure to stop aid for Afghan refugees who were evacuated to the United States. That amendment reflected the demands of former president Donald Trump, who insisted that Republicans should oppose the bill, calling it “a major immigration rewrite that allows Biden to bring anyone he wants from Afghanistan for the next year—no vetting, no screening, no security—and fly them to your community with free welfare and government-issued IDs.” Trump suggested they would bring “horrible assaults and sex crimes” that would be “just be the tip of the iceberg of what’s coming if this isn’t shut down.”For all their talk of concern about taking care of our Afghan allies during the evacuation of Afghanistan, all 50 Republican senators voted for Cotton’s measure. Democrats killed it on a strict party line vote.Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS) also tried to amend the bill. He wanted to prohibit the use of federal funds to implement vaccine requirements for the coronavirus. This failed, too, but only after all Republicans voted for it.The Senate went on today to confirm Rohit Chopra to direct the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for a five-year term. Chopra worked with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to establish the CFPB after the financial crisis of 2008, and in its first five years it recovered about $11.7 billion for some 27 million consumers. Former president Trump appointed former South Carolina representative Mick Mulvaney to head the bureau while he was also the director of the Office of Management and Budget; when he was in Congress, Mulvaney had introduced legislation to abolish the bureau. At its head, Mulvaney zeroed out the bureau’s budget and set about dismantling it.When he took office, Biden began to rebuild the bureau and, in mid-February, appointed Chopra to head it, but Republicans objected to him. Now, more than seven months later, with Republicans insisting he would be anti-business, Vice President Kamala Harris cast the deciding vote to confirm his appointment.The rest of the congressional day was consumed with Democrats trying to hash out a final version of the Build Back Better infrastructure bill. While the Republicans largely sat the debate out—they oppose the Build Back Better plan altogether—conservative Democrats want to pass a smaller $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure before taking up the larger $3.5 trillion measure currently under discussion. That smaller measure focuses on repairing roads and bridges and extending broadband, and lobbyists for construction industries are very keen indeed on getting it into law.But progressive Democrats cut a deal months ago that the smaller measure would go forward together with the larger one, and they are refusing to allow conservatives to change the terms of that deal now. The Build Back Better bill appropriates $3.5 trillion over ten years to expand child care and elder care, expand Medicare, cut prescription drug prices, provide two years of community college, extend the child tax credit, and combat climate change.Aside from the measure itself, there are two issues at stake in the debate over it.The first is about how the Democrats should interpret their victory in 2020. Conservative Democrats like Senators Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) appear to think the Democrats should limit the scope of their legislation to try to pick up moderate Republican votes in the future. More progressive Democrats, led by Pramila Jayapal (WA), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, believe the Democrats were elected to pass laws that help ordinary Americans who have felt unrepresented by Republicans.The other fight behind the Build Back Better measure is over how Americans choose to spend their tax dollars. Republicans, and even some conservative Democrats like Manchin, believe that spending $3.5 trillion on human infrastructure is a waste of money and that the new programs will create an “entitlement mentality.”In contrast, though, Congress spends very little time discussing the defense budget, which, at its current rate, would cost $7.78 trillion over the next ten years. That amount is significantly higher than the defense spending of any other nation in the world. In 2020, the U.S. spent $778 billion on defense, making up 39% of our overall spending. China, the country with the next highest defense budget, spent 13% of its overall spending on defense at $252 billion, India spent 3.7% at $72.9 billion, Russia spent 3.1% at $61.7 billion, and the United Kingdom spent 3% at $59.2 billion.At the heart of the question of how we spend our tax dollars, of course, is who pays those tax dollars. The Biden administration wants to fund the Build Back Better plan not by borrowing, but by closing tax loopholes and clawing back some of the 2017 cuts to corporate taxes and income taxes on the nation’s highest earners. At Rolling Stone today, reporters Andy Kroll and Geoff Dembicki wrote that political groups funded by the network of right-wing libertarian billionaire Charles Koch, who is deeply invested in fossil fuels, are pouring money and effort into killing the Build Back Better plan.Meanwhile, the Senate still has not taken up either of the two voting rights acts passed by the House or the Freedom to Vote Act hammered out this month by Democratic senators led by Manchin.Yesterday, the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab released a report that noted the new voter suppression laws in place in 18 Republican-dominated states but focused instead on 17 new election subversion laws in 11 of those same states. Those new laws put into place the policies former president Trump’s campaign demanded in 2020. They threaten election officials with prosecution if they send out mail-in ballots to anyone who has not requested one, require legislatures to agree to changes in election rules, transfer control of elections or reporting results from nonpartisan officials to political operatives, and allow candidates to demand recounts at will.A new law in Arizona, for example, “shifts control of election litigation from the secretary of state (currently a Democrat) to the attorney general (currently a Republican). The provision is designed to sunset on January 2, 2023, when a new attorney general potentially takes office.”“When Voting Rights Lab launched a few years ago, we knew we’d be busy tracking many disturbing, and oftentimes veiled efforts to suppress the vote of historically excluded Americans,” the report concludes. “What we couldn’t have anticipated at that time was that current officeholders would warp the election process itself….”—Notes:

Please Donate

%d bloggers like this: