Why Do Authoritarian & Evangelicals Get Along So Well Together?

It would seem the two orientations are mutually exclusive to each other since evangelicals make morality and ethical behavior a central tenet of their philosophical belief systems while authoritarians assert they alone are capable and charged with proclaiming what is necessary for the welfare of their supporters regardless of the claims of others.

A case in point is DJT, a man completely devoid of honorable and ethical behavior. A trice married man who cheated on each of his wives. Who extolled his supporters to be dismissive and violent toward those he labeled “as the others”. Who holds the record of dispensing the most lies, in public, of any man who has ever held the office of President. A man who has filed bankruptcy three times, including once over a gambling casino. A man who could not come up with any scriptural verse when asked for his favorite, and kept a copy of Adolph Hitler’s book Mein Kampf in his nightstand.

In their book Taking America Back for God the authors point to the phenomenon of Christian nationalism, the belief that the United States is and should be a Christian nation. Christian ideals and symbols have long played an important role in American public life, but Christian nationalism is about far more than whether the phrase under God belongs in the pledge of allegiance. At its heart, Christian nationalism demands that we must preserve a particular kind of social order, an order in which everyone–Christians and non-Christians, native-born and immigrants, whites and minorities, men and women recognizes their proper place in society. Trumpsters assert the same.

In that regard, authoritarians and evangelicals subscribe to the same principles of paternalism, a hierarchical social order, a willingness to separate society into rigid social patterns, belief in an unprovable and unquestionable higher power, and an emphasis on dismissal of basic human rights, including outright hatred of those who subscribe to a different orientation. The 20th Century provided several authoritarians from Mussolini in Italy to Hitler in Germany to Pinochet in Chile, Redondo in Argentina, Saddam in Iraq, Mao in China, and recently DJT in the US. Each claimed to be the anointed leader who would bring prosperity, peace, and security to the people of their nations, but who violated every principle expressed in the United Nations Universal Declarations of Human Rights.

In a recent poll of American adults, a plurality asserted they would never vote to elect a President who was an atheist, or even an agnostic. In a 1958 poll of Americans, only 18 percent of respondents said they would vote for a generally well-qualified presidential candidate nominated by their political party if that person happened to be an atheist. In 2015, that number has jumped to 58 percent. Yet only one group surveyed — socialists — receives majority opposition in all polls. Less than half of Americans, 45%, say they would vote for a socialist for president, while 53% say they would not. But there is a political tilt with Republicans far less likely to say they would vote for a qualified black person, a woman, a Jew or Muslim, or a person with no religious connections.

Historians have suggested unfavorable explanations for the lack of resistance and the decline of moral integrity among the clergy and the laity of the Catholic Church in Germany during the early years of Hitler’s tenure. There is overwhelming evidence that in the heady days of 1933, after Hitler had been appointed Chancellor, a very large proportion of Catholics was swept up by their expectations of an increasing potent anti-Communist policy and by their hope for the national renewal and regeneration offered by the Nazi propagandists. Similarly, evangelicals welcomed DJT as a potent force in their desire for a return to Christian principles with the mantra of “make America great again”. This is precisely the phrasing Hitler and Himmler used.

For Mussolini to gain credibility with the Roman Catholic Church, he had his children baptized in 1923. In 1926, he had a religious marriage ceremony to his wife Rachele. Their first marriage in 1915 had been a civil ceremony. Mussolini closed down many wine shops and nightclubs. He also made swearing in public a crime.

The tangible effect on most citizens under dictatorships is first one of fear. One is afraid to be labeled as an opponent, a non-believer. Certain words, ideas, and practices could and did lead to arrest, imprisonment, and death. One can easily recall the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690’s, or the Second Red Scare, lasting from the late 1940s through the 1950s. DJT’s Administration said asylum seekers were “bad hombres”. Since launching his presidential campaign in 2015, Donald Trump’s words have raised eyebrows for the characterizations of those he views negatively. The objects of his verbal attacks range from the media, to liberals and even to conservatives who have not embraced his political ideology rooted in hard-line stances on immigration and nationalism. But no group has been the subject of his ire as have immigrants, especially those who have entered the country illegally.

In a break from the Vatican and past policy, the American arm of the Roman Catholic Church kicked off a process that could eventually sanction the exclusion of President Joe Biden, the nation’s second Catholic president, from receiving holy communion. In 2021 Catholic bishops finally approved a document that fell short of denying Communion to Pres. Biden or other politicians who support abortion rights.

So in both groups the underlying basis for the hegemony of their beliefs and public actions follows a similar trajectory. They portray themselves as victims, set upon by others who they claim have no right to the benefits provided by the government or society at large. Thus, while the two segments appear logically oppositional in principle they are almost identical in effect. Unfortunately over 80% of the World’s population live in autocrat-ruled countries, so the “Great Leader” format is pervasive.

 

 

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