If we leave religion behind, is political identity all we have left?
And is that why some on the right question their faith but not their politics?
I have noticed something and wonder if you have as well. I know plenty of people asking questions about what they believe in terms of religion, and lots of people also reexamining their political views.
But I’ve been puzzled when I notice some who seem to take their faith down to its studs, and maybe leave it behind, but who double down on their political views.
Generally this has taken the form of a conservative evangelical who comes to a place of not really knowing if they believe in Christianity at all anymore, but who has doubled down on Republican politics in the age of Trump.
Conversely, I feel like I've noticed a lot of people who are questioning their faith — but who are also seeking to hold on to it — who are also thinking more critically about politics. Some are moving left. Some are still Republican. But among those, few are ok with the direction the GOP has gone the last several years.
Put another way: among those who question faith, those who leave it behind entirely or mostly are less likely to question their politics, and those who seek to hold on to faith are more likely to also question politics.
That's my theory based on anecdotal observation, nothing more. What is your experience? Have you noticed the same thing? Something different? Comment below, or send me an email. I'm wary of over-interpreting a small data set. Is there any actual scientific data that speaks to this? If so, let me know.
I’ve been enjoying spring more than usual this year. I am trying to learn the names of flowers that stand out to me. The Picture This app is extremely useful for this. Here are a few flowers that stood out recently.
How Biblical literalism feeds alternative facts
In a recent interview with Alexis Busetti on her podcast "That Makes Perfect Sense," I talked about the way that Bible literalism (or maybe we call it “hyper-literalism”) can lead to treating real world experiences as if they are "alternative facts." As in, we can take or leave them.
"People will often say that evangelicals are anti-institutional and distrust mainstream media and institutions in general. But what I think empowers or lies underneath that anti-institutionalism is this view of the Bible ... it's like a bedrock. It goes back to the two books. If the Bible is the only book of revelation and the created world is not held at the same level of reverence, then it allows people to slip into a belief structure where they can look at things in the real world and dismiss them, and insist that the things they believe are right because they have somehow been extrapolated out of this text. 2020 was a peak moment of that, with the election denialism and a lot of things around COVID. You could also probably talk at some length about the ways that the racial justice movement has gone through this process of let's distract [from it] ... and there's been a huge backlash to it.
That view of the Bible as over and above the created world is kind of at the root of this anti-institutionalim, which leads to parallel institutions, which leads to a parallel universe, which allows people to look at plain facts or reality and say, 'That doesn't exist.' That's what I see happening in 2020."
Influence has changed (the establishment is a paper tiger)
I also talked with Alexis about the ways that many people continue to miss the quite obvious fact that influence is no longer nearly as top down as it used to be, and is far more bottom up, with leaders following their followers more than the other way around. And this is why many leaders have done many things over the last several years that mystify and discourage those who have admired them. Alexis talked about being a Focus on the Family listener for many years, and then hearing in 2021 FOF's president Jim Daly quoting from Tucker Carlson on his show "as if this is something we can rest our faith on."
"It was shocking to me," Alexis said.
Here's what I said:
"Influence is not what people think. It's not from these leaders to their audience. It's the other way around ... I interviewed Jim Daly in 2016, and he was no Trump fan. He was no MAGA type. He was no Tucker Carlson fan. There's been a revolution over the last half-century or so in how influence works. It's largely the audience telling leaders where to go more than it is leaders telling the audience where to go. In an age of instant feedback over the internet, more and more precise data analytics measuring what people like, what they're watching, what they're clicking on -- all of that is monetizable. And attention is currency. And so whatever people in each tribe want the most of -- because again we're all siloed into Fox news or MSNBC or CNN -- these echo chambers. The people at the top especially who are responsible for making the money in the business suite are looking at these metrics and saying, 'This plays, this doesnt.' And that applies to the big tech companies as well.
And what plays is what makes us angry or what makes us fearful. So that's what we get more of.
... This is played out clear as day in the Dominion lawsuit against Fox where they are saying over and over again in texts and e-mails, 'If we go too far in calling out Trump's lies about the election, our audience will leave us.' That is exactly what I am talking about. And it's true, I'm quite sure, of Jim Daly at Focus on the Family as well. And it's quite true in many churches across this country, where pastors feel like they have to trim their sails or be really aggressively culture-wary, because that's what their congregation wants ... We've become so sort of mob-driven that we can't work together. The loudest group in the room runs roughshod over other constituencies."
I wrote about some of this in the political context back in 2018, in a piece I called "The Gravitron." I posted it on Medium at the time, but I've reposted it here on Substack so you can read it here as well. I'll send it to subscribers just after this email goes out.
BuzzFeed, Gawker, and the Casualties of the Traffic Wars by Nathan Heller for The New Yorker
"The will to traffic is now everywhere: on your phone, in your ears, on your screen. In dreamy moods, I sometimes fantasize about journalism dropping out of the game—not chasing traffic, not following this year’s wisdom, not offering audiences everything they could possibly want in hastiest form. Imagine producing as little as you could as best you could: it would be there Monday, when the week began, and there Friday, the tree standing after the storm. And imagine the audience’s pleasure at finding it, tall and expansive and waiting for a sunny day. In an age of traffic, such deliberateness could be radical. It could be, I think, the next big thing."
Why top Trump allies like Roger Stone are using apocalyptic religious rhetoric, by Jon Ward (me) for Yahoo News
Trump’s hold on evangelicals has shown some signs of slipping. Numerous leaders have so far declined to support him.
So these efforts by Stone and Flynn to keep the most hardcore base of Christian Trumpists engaged make political sense. But the rhetoric of violent spiritual warfare that permeates this world has already played a role in sparking real world political violence once on Jan. 6, Taylor argued in his “Charismatic Revival Fury” podcast series.
And the violent rhetoric has not abated. Stone often appears on the Elijah Streams show alongside a man named Robin D. Bullock, a full-length leather-jacket wearing Alabama religious leader who claims he’s “been to heaven…a few times” and “watched God create the world one time.”
Bullock may be controversial among other Charismatic evangelicals, but his YouTube channel has 201,000 subscribers. Stone called Bullock a “good friend” this week. And in comments last year to the Whiteds, Bullock said that the FBI raid on Trump’s Mar-A-Lago compound had “triggered the day of vengeance” described in the biblical Book of Isaiah.
“I will tread them in mine anger and trample them in my fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled on my garments,” Bullock said, reading the passage. “Yes!” exclaimed a smiling Stacy Whited.
Taylor is concerned that this ongoing dehumanization of opponents by comparing them to demons, and violent spiritual rhetoric that sometimes spills into hints of actual physical violence or predictions of “sudden deaths” among Trump opponents, is creating an “early-on, groundswell rationalization for the next Jan. 6th.”
Where the GOP's investigations into President Biden's family members stand, by Jon Ward (me again) for Yahoo News
The report says that James and Hunter Biden were paid over $10 million by companies associated with foreign countries or governments when Joe Biden was vice president. It does not provide proof of decisions made by the then vice president that were influenced by his relatives.
The Republican report says Biden’s brother and son engaged in “many intentionally complicated financial transactions to hide these payments and avoid scrutiny” and set up “over 20 companies” to shield themselves. In an appearance this week on Fox News, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, a Kentucky Republican, said that James and Hunter Biden also sought to avoid paying taxes.
Hunter Biden is under investigation by federal law enforcement as to whether he has failed to pay taxes, according to multiple news reports.
The Biden White House is responding by pointing to what Fox News itself is saying about the report. On Thursday morning, network host Steve Doocy responded to Comer’s claims of “influence peddling” by the Biden relatives.
“That’s just your suggestion. You don’t actually have any facts to that point. You’ve got some circumstantial evidence,” Doocy told Comer. “And the other thing is, of all those names, the one person who didn’t profit — there’s no evidence that Joe Biden did anything illegally.”
Hunter Biden has said in the past that he showed “poor judgment” in some of his business dealings. His statement can be read as an acknowledgment that, at the very least, it’s not a good idea for the relatives of politicians to make large sums of money advising clients who need help from politicians.
Former President Donald Trump’s children also conducted business overseas with clients who could benefit from government action, which also drew criticism at the time.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!
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