Why Christian Nationalism Is a Threat to Democracy

According to Nancy LeTourneau’s essay in the Washington Monthly:

We have to grapple with the fact that Christian nationalists are launching a “direct attack on democracy itself.” That is because real democracy poses a threat to the kind of authoritarianism they embrace. The roots of that were explained by William Barr during his speech to the law school at Notre Dame. He began by articulating his own view of human nature.

Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large.

No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity.

Barr goes on to suggest that, when the founders talked about self government, they didn’t mean what we think they did.

In the words of Madison, “We have staked our future on the ability of each of us to govern ourselves…”

This is really what was meant by “self-government.” It did not mean primarily the mechanics by which we select a representative legislative body. It referred to the capacity of each individual to restrain and govern themselves.

But if individual rapacity is the problem, what is the source of those restraints?

[T]o control willful human beings, with an infinite capacity to rationalize, those moral values must rest on authority independent of men’s will – they must flow from a transcendent Supreme Being.

In short, in the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people – a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order antecedent to both the state and man-made law and who had the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles.

When you combine that with the belief among Christian nationalists that the only true religion is Christianity, you have the antithesis of democratic pluralism. Instead, you have authoritarian theocracy. That loops us back to Franklin Graham and the rest of the court evangelicals, who take it upon themselves to define who is on God’s side and who is doing the work of the devil.

Years ago, Sara Robinson captured what it takes to leave that kind of authoritarian mindset.

We must never, ever underestimate what it costs these people to let go of the beliefs that have sustained them…Externally, it always means the loss of your community; and often the loss of jobs, homes, marriages, and blood relatives as well. Internally, it requires sifting through every assumption you’ve ever made about how the world works, and your place within it; and demands that you finally take the very emotional and intellectual risks that the entire edifice was designed to protect you from. You have to learn, maybe for the first time, to face down fear and live with ambiguity.

While the loss of community can be traumatic, the prospect of “sifting through every assumption you’ve ever made about how the world works” is overwhelming. As she points out, the entire edifice is designed to protect you from fear and the threat of ambiguity. For most people, scaling that one is too much to ask.

Author: Ben Slade

I'm a software technologist with a political bent. My views tend toward the contrarian and slightly curmudgeonly end of the spectrum.

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