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U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), far right, talks with U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Gov. Mark Gordon during a 2019 tour of Wyoming’s Thunder Basin National Grassland. (Lance Cheung/U.S. Department of Agriculture, Public Domain)

As I watched Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) being fired this week as the No. 3 leader in the U.S. House’s Republican Caucus, I was thinking about religion, specifically Christianity.

The reason Rep. Cheney was ignobly voted out of her leadership position was not because her political policies had run afoul of the party’s platform (indeed, the GOP doesn’t have one at the moment besides “Whatever Donald Trump wants”).

No. She was punished for heresy. The punishment was a modern auto-da-fé, the public burning at the stake of religious skeptics in medieval times.

It was because she insisted that her caucus accept irrefutable but, for Republicans heretical, truth by rejecting “The Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from incumbent and now former President Trump due to widespread voting fraud.

It was a harsh punishment for political heresy, as it were. It was Cheney’s wages for refusing to support what the majority dearly wants to be true and is afraid to say otherwise because Trump promises to ruthlessly punish any supposed heretics with defeat at the polls.

In brief, it’s moral cowardice that could very well result in inadvertent political suicide for the entire party in the end.

This power dynamic is not so different from medieval Christianity, especially during the Catholic Inquisitions and, later, Protestant pogroms against heretics and nonbelievers. Note that heretics were the people who refused to accept wholesale the dogma of Christianity — which is to say the “truth” ecclesiastic superiors demanded everyone accept. Even though no evidence existed that it was true then, as now.

Back in that day, naysayers didn’t just face rejection of their peers and general social approbation but also a particularly gruesome and torturous execution — being publicly chained to a stake and usually burned alive, often with their tongues and eyes gouged in the process. Citizens were so convinced of the rightness of it all, they brought their kids to burnings along with sack lunches.

Francisco Goya’s powerful “The Inquisition Tribunal,” painted between 1812 and 1819, shows the intimidating nature of Spanish Inquisition trials. Accused heretics are wearing the conical hats. (Flickr, Public Domain)

So what happened to Liz Cheney is a recurring ancient injustice, to silence, shame and/or kill societies’ minority renegades against mindless, hypocritical mendacity, against coerced “purity.”

The profound irony is that Cheney is politically far more conservatively pure than Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-New York), the once moderate Republican who was tapped by GOP Caucus leadership to replace her. Cheney voted in support of then-President Trump’s policies more than 80 percent of the time, while Stefanik only nodded approval less than half the time.

But the telling difference is that Cheney refuses to lie for her party, while the ambitious Stefanik is all-in on embracing obvious disinformation.

The truth is that Trump lost to now-President Joe Biden fair and square, a reality ratified by every state election body in the country (sometimes after multiple vote recounts), by more than 60 judges on appeal (some appointed by Trump himself), by the U.S. Supreme Court (twice) and, finally, by Congress, after Trump-infuriated insurrectionists stormed the Capitol to stop final approval of the election results on Jan. 6.

Yet, just yesterday Trump again repeated that the election was stolen from him by fraud, a lie that virtually the entire House Republic caucus is still willing to enthusiastically parrot months later at the behest of their fallen leader.

It’s because tens of millions of Trump voters actually believe the lie is true (unlike a lot of Republicans who are only saying it’s true for political expediency), and congressional Republicans greatly need Trump’s “base” votes in the upcoming 2022 and 2024 elections.

This is shameful. Just as it continues to be shameful in 21st-century America when Christians shame, shun and slander people in their communities who demand evidence of truth for their unsubstantiated religious dogma. Such “truth” clergy are permanently unable to provide but instead demand groundless faith.

A larger point here is that because Christians for millennia have been rigorously taught to accept clear fantasies as reality, true believers today are primed to accept other nonsense just as readily.

And they’re only too willing to unjustly punish anyone who doesn’t go along. Just like the House Republicans.

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...