On Tuesday, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote an essay about how the conservative Christian movement has effectively been co-opted by Donald Trump. Jesus may bind them together in theory, but Trumpism brings them together in practice.
I have a major nit to pick with the piece, but let me first acknowledge what Rubin gets right.
Her overall claim makes sense, and we know that because whenever the two worlds collided during the Trump presidency — when it came to treating others with respect, or caring for the poor, or telling the truth — those conservative Christians made it clear they were on Trump’s side no matter what. The symbolism of a MAGA hat always outweighed the symbolism of the cross. Trump’s constant stream of blatant bullshit and cruelty was acceptable to white evangelicals in exchange for a slew of right-wing judges with lifetime appointments.
Rubin points out the consequences of this Faustian bargain:
In sum, while the White evangelical political movement has done immeasurable damage to our democracy, its descent into MAGA politics, conspiratorial thinking and cult worship has had catastrophic results for the religious values evangelicals once held dear.
As much as I want to agree with the sentiment here, let’s be honest: White evangelicals never held those values dear. They have always been cruel (ask LGBTQ people), ignorant (ask scientists), and misogynistic (ask anyone who suffered through “Purity Culture”). “Family values” only ever applied to a narrow definition of “family” and “unconditional love” always came with conditions.
But if Rubin’s point is that conservative Christians lost whatever credibility they had left by embracing Trump, sure. Why not. I’m right there with her.
And yet, nestled in those first few paragraphs is a completely random slap in the face to atheists everywhere.
Understanding this phenomenon goes a long way toward explaining the MAGA crowd’s very unreligious cruelty toward immigrants, its selfish refusal to vaccinate to protect the most vulnerable and its veneration of a vulgar, misogynistic cult leader. If you wonder how so many “people of faith” can behave in such ways, understand that their “faith” has become hostile to traditional religious values such as kindness, empathy, self-restraint, grace, honesty and humility.
Rubin uses the word “unreligious” as a synonym for heartless. As if cruelty can’t be religious in nature. As if a non-Christian nation, with policies devised by non-religious or (*gasp*) anti-religious people, would be the worst thing imaginable for the most vulnerable people.
The reality is the exact opposite.
As Phil Zuckerman explained so well at the most recent Freedom From Religion Foundation’s annual conference — especially when describing our nation’s response to the pandemic — we’d all be better off with more god-free morality. They should be taking lessons from us. We’re the moral ones, not the religious crowd.
Doing the right thing for the right reasons is far more moral than doing the right thing because you believe God commands it. (And as we’ve learned all too well, just because God commands something doesn’t mean His most fervent followers will take it seriously.)
Not only is Rubin’s slander uncalled for — even if it was unintentional (more on that in a second) — it’s flat-out untrue when it comes to immigration specifically!
Sociologist Ryan Burge recently tweeted a chart of how various religious denominations (as well as the non-religious) stand on legal immigration. The majority of Southern Baptists and non-denominational evangelicals wanted to slow it down. Meanwhile, atheists and agnostics were overwhelmingly in favor of making it easier.
To put all that another way, if there are people from other countries trying to come to America via legal means, most Christians want to put barriers in their way. Let ‘em suffer. That’s their mentality.
The same results bear out when it comes to deporting undocumented immigrants, separating families, and blocking the DREAM Act (which would offer a path to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants). The most devout Christian Americans want all those immigrants to suffer while the least religious Americans are more likely to want to help them.
“Unreligious cruelty”? Please. The cruelty isn’t coming from our side. Our nation would be better off if we adopted the policies favored by most Secular Americans.
Am I saying Rubin purposely tried to target atheists with her language? No. But that right there is the problem. I don’t think it ever crossed her mind that anti-atheist language would be problematic at all. It’s something she just wrote reflexively.
Without citing Rubin by name, the Secular Coalition for America tweeted this:
It’s a fair point. And Rubin is hardly the first person to do it. There’s no shortage of intelligent pundits (and Meghan McCain) who have used “godless” to imply something horrific or who have used the phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes” to imply we’re all the same (i.e. religious) in moments of desperation.
None of them are making theological statements. But in a nation rife with Christian privilege, this is a perfect example of how anti-atheist slander can go under the radar. It’s up to us to call it out.