The Sandy Foundations of Evangelical Morality

house-built-on-sand-l-4b2687022b50e054I’ve been writing about morality and its relationship to religion for quite a while. Let’s take a brief journey through my past articles before we get into my latest observations…

December 22, 2014: “Your devotion to your faith should not lead you to cover up evil, in some misguided attempt to retain dignity for the religion as a whole.”

May 27, 2015: “Despite what [the Duggars]–or their apologists–might claim, their particular religion is not all about forgiveness for sinners. It is specifically focused on patriarchal control; the “forgiveness for sinners” argument is just a convenient way to gloss over the crimes of the male leaders.”

August 20, 2015: “I wish I could say I was surprised…but one thing I learned from my time as a Christian is that most versions of the religion lend themselves readily to justifying, excusing, or minimizing sexual “sins” (only heterosexual ones, though).”

August 31, 2015: “Like I’ve said before, the doctrine of depravity is effective at keeping people within the religion. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy–you believe you will keep sinning, so you do. You keep going back to the church for affirmation of your salvation because you’ve been instilled with the terror of hell, and hell is for sinners, and you’re a sinner.”

November 5, 2015: “No matter how you look at the data, there is zero support for the idea that religion of any sort is needed in order to have a peaceful and moral society. If you tried to draw a connection between religion and crime, the data would tell you the exact opposite. If there is a cause, rather than just a correlation, it would link religion with higher rates of crime and general immorality.”

January 18, 2016: “Morality based on what god says implies that it is morally right to follow any command from god and morally wrong to disobey him. I happen to think morality has a stronger foundation than that. To unquestioningly obey a command merely because you think it came from god is not moral, it’s blind obedience.”

January 21, 2016: “We can say that murder is always wrong because it always harms the victim, and the experience of harm is what defines wrongness in the first place. In other words, good and evil are defined subjectively by the experience of people affected by an action, not the opinions of people performing the action.”

April 4, 2016: “Since you said that god is good, I assume you think all of his actions are consistent with his nature. In Genesis, god supposedly kills everyone on earth except eight people, undoubtedly including many children. In Exodus, he kills every firstborn child in Egypt. Later, he explicitly commands genocide, again killing many children. Based on your definition, since god’s actions include killing children, and his actions are always consistent with his nature, and things that are consistent with his nature are good, we can conclude that killing children is good. Care to revise your definition of good?”

April 7, 2016: “It’s clear that god’s ideas of good and evil have nothing to do with the outcomes of actions. Christians may object, saying that there’s a longer-term plan that we just don’t understand. But according to most traditional versions of the religion, the ultimate outcome of god’s whole plan is that most people will suffer for eternity. It seems plain to me that this god is more interested in his own ego and cares nothing about the suffering of humans.”

August 22, 2016: “In this way, Trump represents the grand culmination of the collusion between Republicans and evangelical Christians over the last several decades. It was no surprise to me that people who deny reality and follow an evil, arrogant, and selfish god would support a candidate who so perfectly embodies those attributes.”

August 29, 2016: “Fortunately for me, almost every other human shares the same basic “moral preferences” as I do. It’s almost like we’re a social species with instinctive behaviors, shaped by eons of natural selection, that help us survive rather than destroying ourselves. Weird.”

September 2, 2016: “They like to use the analogy of a truck, like we’re about to be run over in the road and they’re shoving us out of the way. But Christianity is driving the truck it claims to be saving you from.”

September 12, 2016: “Religious morality, as I’ve said before, is not really moral; it’s not a system of determining what is right and wrong. Rather, it’s a system of absolute obedience to authority, which prevents them from considering how their actions actually affect people. If they based their decisions on consequences, they’d realize how evil the religion really is. A study from several years ago supports this, showing that both religion and conservatism predict a resistance to considering consequences when making moral decisions. In other words, while liberals consider the outcome of actions to at least be important, conservatives and religious people tend to ignore outcomes and remain loyal to authority.”

Aside from my articles, I’ve also had numerous exchanges about morality with Christians, both online and in person. Not a single one of them has ever managed to provide a coherent definition for “objective good”. At least two of them admitted that morality is inherently subjective after starting out claiming the opposite. Several tried to defend slavery, genocide, and the murder of unbelievers commanded in Deuteronomy 13 (among other passages).

And then a recording surfaced of Donald Trump bragging about committing sexual assault, and more than a dozen women came out to say “yeah, he assaulted me”.

You’d think that would be the last straw for conservative white Christians, who wanted Bill Clinton impeached for having a consensual affair. But no…recent polls still show that 65-75% of white evangelicals support Donald Trump, down from 80% several months ago. When their candidate brags about and is accused of sexual assault, they talk about grace and forgiveness, while demonizing his opponent for any minor indiscretion they can come up with, whether real or imaginary. When their candidate’s wife defends him, they praise her while attacking Hillary Clinton for defending her husband against similar accusations.

It’s almost like they don’t actually care about morality. It’s almost like this whole “family values” thing, their obsession with legislating morality, is all nothing but a self-righteous facade to hide the authoritarianism, hatred, bigotry, and hypocrisy of the religion they wield as a weapon in their quest for power. Why else would they suddenly say the opposite of what they formerly claimed to believe, when their candidate turns out to be the antithesis of everything they supposedly stood for?

In 2011, only 30 percent of white evangelicals thought someone who was immoral in their personal life could be a good and ethical leader in public office. That number has now ballooned to 72 percent, far ahead of the general population and religiously unaffiliated voters. White evangelicals are now apparently the major religious group most accepting of immoral behavior by politicians. Five years ago they were the least.

This is precisely what we would expect if their claims of moral superiority were utter bullshit. This is what we would expect if their morality was a weak and vapid philosophy, an illusion conjured from their whims without foundation or rudder. In Jesus’s parable of the men building houses, white evangelicals are the ones building on sand.

Image: Vox

Image: Vox

According to his own words, James Dobson is a fool. So are Jerry Falwell Jr, Franklin Graham, and apparently a majority of white evangelicals. I know this hypocrisy isn’t endorsed by all white evangelicals, but 72% is a pretty strong majority. And it’s not just that a majority of them support an evil candidate. It’s the massive shift, over a mere five years, from a 70% majority standing against immorality in political leaders to 72% accepting it. The rest of the Protestants and Catholics followed along as well, but to a smaller extent. In the same time, the religiously unaffiliated shifted a few percent in the opposite direction.

What this tells me is that the morality of American Christianity is based on something much less robust than the morality of the religiously unaffiliated. All it took to turn them into apologists for a self-admitted sexual predator was for him to win the Republican nomination. If they were actually concerned about morality, I would expect them to turn en masse to a third party candidate like Darrell Castle. The fact that they stuck with Trump and proceeded to rationalize away his bottomless pit of moral depravity betrays their motivations as purely political and financial. They want power, and Trump promised them power. Explicitly. In a meeting with a bunch of evangelical leaders, he claimed he would get rid of the Johnson Amendment, allowing them to openly endorse and campaign for politicians without losing their tax-exempt privilege. He promised repeatedly to restore their power in America, and they applauded.

This sense of entitlement the religious right has, thinking that they should have power over the government without paying any taxes, is the main force giving Trump any chance at all of being elected. Evangelicals still make up about half of the Republican party’s voting base, so if Republicans lose them, the party is done. It’ll pass into history like the Whigs who split over slavery, and something else will take its place. They’ve managed to hang on to that voting base mostly due to abortion, but their problem now is that they’re quickly being outnumbered by young people like me who aren’t buying the bullshit, and growing minority populations that tend to vote for Democrats.

So it seems that the evangelical support for Trump is one more frantic attempt by a dying former majority to maintain their self-serving status and power. They put on a public show of morality and concern for the future of the nation, but their eagerness to support anyone who promises them political and financial privilege only supports what I’ve been saying all along. Evangelical morality is a feckless mockery of ethics.

Image: Froot.nl

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One response to “The Sandy Foundations of Evangelical Morality

  1. I tend to put it this way: power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, spiritual power corrupts spiritually – perhaps I should add “moral power corrupts morally” because it seems that the authoritarian evangelicals are all about morality, but too many of them are covering up the abuse of their position and scandals within their ranks – becoming the very things they rail against in others.

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