Overview:

There's good religion and bad religion. Right now, it is the bad kind that is winning out -- and causing terrible damage to the USA

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Last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton publicly declared his fervent desire to arrest consenting adults who engage in non-procreative sex. And he just may get to do so in the near future, given Supreme Court Justice Thomas’s stated intention to revisit Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 ruling that rendered sodomy laws unconstitutional nationwide. 

What do Paxton and Thomas have in common, aside from their homophobic bigotry? You guessed it: a very deep love of a particularly mean Jesus. Both men are strong, aggressive Christians, and their authoritarian faith is the most active muscle propelling their political might. And they are far from alone. Despite the fact that most US Christians today are loving, kind, and humane, it is their more vocal, organized, and politically-vindictive brothers and sisters who are currently at the forefront of the assault on democracy, women’s rights, our children’s safety, and the very well-being of Planet Earth.

Much like a Catholic priest directing a summer camp for disadvantaged boys, the question is: where to begin?

What do Paxton and Thomas have in common, aside from their homophobic bigotry? You guessed it: a very deep love of a particularly mean Jesus.

Let’s start with the assault on democracy. The armed insurgents that sought to overthrow the Capital, hang Mike Pence, and nullify the electoral will of the American people, were heavily Christian in membership and motivation. As Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows texted to Judge Thomas’s fundamentalist wife Gini during the violent riot, the sedition was all for the glory of “The King of Kings.” And in the aftermath of January 6, the most active and engaged white Christians among us continue to be the most supportive of Trumpism; the more often they go to church, the more likely they are to support the twice-impeached President. Furthermore, according to a PRRI survey, 60% of white evangelical Protestants, 40% of white Catholics, and 37% of white Mainline Protestants accept Trump’s lie that Biden “stole” the election.

That’s a lot of devout Christians embracing fascist propaganda.

Next is women’s bodily autonomy. The entire anti-choice movement is deeply Christian in nature. Despite the fact that the Bible says nothing about abortion—Jesus never said a word about it!—our nation’s Bible-wielders have successfully criminalized women who seek to make their own reproductive choices. And while many liberal Christians, who maintain a largely secular orientation to the world, favor abortion rights, it is the more strongly religious who are most opposed, even when a woman’s life is in danger, or fetal development is unviable, or the pregnancy results from rape. In such circumstances, “welcome your precious gift from God,” is senator Ted Cruz’s vicious refrain. As for the Trump-appointed justices who overturned Roe v. Wade, all of them are strong Jesus-worshippers, including Amy Coney Barrett, who has explicitly stated that her Catholic faith supersedes her adherence to the US Constitution.

Concerning our children’s safety: it is the strongly religious who fight the hardest to make sure that each and every disgruntled 18-year-old can quickly and easily purchase a machine gun. Religious Americans—especially white evangelical Christians—are more likely to own guns than secular Americans, pious politicians are the most likely to push prayer as a viable solution to gun violence rather than gun control, and it is the strongly Christian judges on the Supreme Court who have overturned gun safety regulations, making it even easier for the murder-minded to wield guns in public.

Mother Earth is also in their Christian crosshairs. Trump’s Supremes recently ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency and in favor of polluters, at a time when the science undeniably shows what a dire, precarious moment we are in concerning the increasingly threatening climate crisis. But for those believers who yearn for an afterlife, this planet’s health is of lesser value; environmental concern is much lower among Christians than it is among other demographics.

The irony here is that Christianity in the US is actually on the decline. In 2007, 78% of Americans identified as Christian, but today only 63% do. Church membership, belief in God, Bible reading, and regular church attendance are at all-time lows. Growing numbers of Americans are eschewing religion altogether. And yet Christian political power is stronger than ever, especially on the Supreme Court. This pious force is shaping our society for the much, much worse. In the immediate future, more Trumpists will exert their will to power, more women will die, more children will be shot, and more greenhouse gases will choke us—all because of the fundamentalist faith of a minority of conservative Christians who don’t represent the will of most religious Americans, specifically, and certainly not the will of most Americans, in general.

If you’ve ever wondered whether religion does more harm or good in the world, that age-old conundrum is becoming ever less difficult to decide as we watch the destruction of much of what we hold dear in our nation at the hands of Christian nationalists, Bible-thumpers, and weekly flesh-eaters. Religion—in this case, conservative, cross-wielding, flag-propelling, gun-toting Christianity—is causing massive destruction and tremendous suffering.

To be sure, religious faith has often supported the cause of social justice, bolstered human dignity, and served as a safeguard against demagoguery. But right now, that kind of faith is being overwhelmed by a much more vicious and malignant form.

Phil Zuckerman is the author of several books, including What It Means to be Moral (Counterpoint, 2019) The Nonreligious (Oxford, 2016), Living the Secular Life (Penguin, 2014), Faith No More (Oxford,...