The Troubling Advance of Christian Nationalism

India Religion United States

New Orleans  –  I’ve booked my tickets to India in about one month, not having been there for almost eight years due to visa problems.  I follow the country closely, given ACORN’s more than 50,000 members there in some of the world’s largest cities.  I wonder what I’ll find in the country that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried to reshape since 2014.  The BJP and his administration have attempted since my last visit to create a divisive Hindu nationalism to supplant what had long been a secular country with a toxic mixture of religion and state.  Watching India is frightening, but the same is true in the United States with the rise of white Christian nationalism on the right and even in the decisions of the Supreme Court.

Linda Greenhouse, formerly the court reporter for the New York Times, and now a professor and frequent contributor not only to the Times, but numerous other publications is to my mind perhaps the most sober and exhaustive analyst of the American legal climate.  Recently in a number of publications she has been sounding warnings of the spread of this warped history and interpretation of American history and its current impact.  A recent piece in the New York Review of Books was especially alarming.

She notes that,

According to a recent Pew Research poll, 60 percent of Americans believe the country was founded to be a Christian nation, and nearly half (including 81 percent of white evangelicals) think it should be one today.

Of course, American history makes a lie of that claim, but “the answer lies in white evangelists’ response to the profound cultural changes the country experienced during the second half of the twentieth century.” These cultural changes include the diversity of society, especially the continuing racism over the role of Black Americans, the changing role of women and gays, and the litany of other social changes so disturbing to the right.

Like India, this is a political movement more than a religious one.  Looking at the Tea Party and MAGA people, “On measures of individual religious behavior such as church attendance, this group scored notably lower than other elements of the religious right.”  Additionally, she reports that survey responses find that “those who scored highest on the white Christian nationalism scale…saw the greatest threat not from atheists or Muslims but from ‘socialists.’” All of which would likely be a surprise to socialists who I dare say are under not illusion that they are about to take over the country or its culture!

As confounding is the way this movement has seemingly taken hold of significant decisions of the US Supreme Court and the thrust of its recent decisions to make religion not a private matter but a public one, eroding the long-held principle of separation of church and state, and infecting civil society.  Greenhouse sites the “startling decision” in Kennedy v. Bremerton School, which created a right for a football coach at a public high school “to thank God from the fifty-yard line in full view of the stands.”  These are erosions of American secularism and the viewpoint of the new majority of the Court that now thinks being “good secular citizens” should stand in second place to their own support of Christian nationalism.  Greenhouse links much of this to the flags and religious symbols used by the zealots and insurrectionists in the January 6th attack on the Capitol as well.

When what has been accepted is attacked by radicals, the efforts of many and even the court to make all of this the “new normal” is deeply disturbing.  The United States is not India, but there are forces trying to drive us down a similar path, and that would be bloody and tragic, just as it has been in India.