White American Evangelical Christians And Their Tribal God
Someone asked me what Christians were afraid of, and as a practicing Christian I said, “Based on our behavior, the thing we fear most is living a Christ-like life.”
Now, this is true for all of us who profess to follow Jesus -- not a one of us claims we’ve got it right, and those among us who come closest would be the first to loudly proclaim they are miserable failures at it and have to work even harder.
But by the same measure there are some who fall far, far short but -- as is always the case -- think they’re living exactly the sort of life God wants ‘em to live.
The Dunning-Kruger effect describes them to a T: People mistakenly thinking they are better than they are.
To quote Charles Bukowski: “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”
Before that, Bertrand Russell said: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wise people so full of doubts.”
Socrates is quoted even earlier: “I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.”
The main circuit running through the spine of white American evangelical Christianity is white supremacy.
Not all white American evangelical Christians are hateful, hurtful bigots -- far too many are, but not all.
But it’s impossible to think of any who don’t believe deep in their heart of hearts that the country wouldn’t be a better place if only white people were running it, or that the world wouldn’t improve if they started aping America.
They will allow a token few a place on the podium or at the table, but the white folks want to be in charge and they want to make all the decisions, such as who gets to live where, who can go to what schools, how fairly laws shall be enforced, etc., etc., and of course, etc.
Most of them aren’t bad people and they’ll send money to foreign missionaries and they’ll even tolerate the family member who marries outside their race, but…
…they want to be on top of the societal heap.
While the earliest white settlers to North America brought their own prejudices with them, truth be told it was the absentee landlords and local gentry who most ardently promulgated white supremacy.
Most whites coming to North America from the British Isles were scraped from the bottom of his majesty’s debtor’s prisons and work farms, or religious bigots who lost a civil war and sought new territory where they could exercise their prejudices freely.
While the French and Dutch colonial traders tried to deal fairly with the native people, Anglo and Scots-Irish colonists regarded them as untrustworthy savages who should be driven as far away from “civilized” (read white) society as possible.
The big cash crops of North America could only be grown in what we now refer to as the American South, in a climate that killed off Anglo and Scots-Irish colonials at a prodigious rate.
Since whites could not work the plantations economically, the owners imported enslaved labor from Africa. To soothe the resentments of poor whites, the plantation owners encouraged feelings of white supremacy: “I may be poor, but at least I ain’t black!”
To one degree or another that poison pill has stayed stuck in the back of America’s throat ever since.
As America became an independent nation, the plantation owners sought to expand their political and economic power over the rest of the country.
That meant expanding westward -- and driving out or eradicating the native people who fled there.
It meant coming up with justifications for this genocide.
It meant coming up with justifications for enslaving African-Americans, and not merely enslaving them but guaranteeing that even if they somehow obtained freedom, they would never be equal in status to the poorest whites.
White American evangelical Christians bristle when they’re accused of clinging to their guns and god for comfort, but truth be told they bristle because they know it is true.
When abolitionists began making headway in American politics -- and make no mistake, these were not starry-eyed egalitarians but merely less hateful white supremacists -- the rich plantation owners first resisted by sponsoring professors and pastors who pushed white supremacy: The professors proclaiming Darwin proved whites were more highly evolved, and hence superior to blacks; the pastors preaching that the Bible ordained whites should rule over blacks (and while they were at it, men over women as well).
It was a false gospel as anyone who actually bothered to read the Beatitudes could see, but it was a comforting false gospel, telling downtrodden poor whites and anxious middle class whites who feared a loss of status that they were better, they were superior to the black and the red and the brown and the yellow.
They fought -- and lost.
And even while losing conjured up a new false gospel, the myth of the lost cause.
And while that myth took root in the American South, it soon spread its insidious tendrils throughout the nation, tell poor and working class and middle class whites that an evil, overreaching federal government had forced the war of the just, peace loving lily white South for its own insidious reasons.
And doors were slammed in the faces of African-Americans and Latin Americans and native Americans and the immigrants arriving from the east to build our railroads and dig our mines.
As time marched on, it became impossible to hold back demands for justice among the poor of any color, and among the oppressed non-whites in particular.
The rich white oligarchy changed tactics but not strategy.
They attacked labor unions in order to keep whites and blacks from banding together for their common economic and social good.
They attacked all forms of social programs, promoting fundamentalist religious beliefs that said the churches should be the center point for charity and good works in the community.
The churches went along with this, of course; the rich doled their money out wisely.
Despite their efforts, the rapidly changing world forced itself into white complacency.
Minorities and women began moving into the workplace in large numbers.
Civil rights were spreading slowly but surely.
Again the rich attacked progressive ideas, branding them as “socialist” or “communist” and using the boogey-man of Marx’ anti-religious sentiment to tell white evangelical America that they would be deprived of their churches, deprived of their status, deprived of their privilege as white people if the government was allowed to continue its civil rights programs.
And again, the churches responded by attacking progressive ideals and reinforcing white prejudices.
But they couldn’t keep non-whites and women from demanding and obtaining their basic civil rights.
Kinda hard to deny ‘em when they’re written into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
(And once again, no illusions here; the founding fathers thought those rights would only apply to white men such as themselves who owned property, but they had enough integrity to leave the back door unlatched so others in the future could come in and share the bounty.)
As minorities and women and gays began moving into the public sphere, white evangelical Christians began moving out.
Oh, they had their reasons, they cited Bible chapter and verse, but they cherry-picked their verses, ignoring the repeated calls for Christians to love one another without judgment, to be generous to a fault to those in need, to shun wealth and prestige and be servants of the down trodden (who in most cases had been down trodden by those very evangelicals).
White American evangelicals retreated from the public sphere. “Our kids ain’t going to school with no *****! We’ll send ‘em to a Christian school -- hell, we’ll homeschool ‘em!”
And bit by bit, step by step they created a separate white culture…
…but in doing so they needed to abandon the Christianity of Jesus and embrace a new god.
That god -- ‘scuse me, idol -- they constructed to worship is a false-god, a god cast in their own image: Petty. Ugly. Limited. Stupid.
A god who rewards his chosen with wealth and power and prestige over others
A god who effectively bars others from joining his chosen
A god who wages war on those opposed to him
A god who packs prisons
A god who blocks hospital doors
A god who shuns the desperate
A god who starves the destitute
A god who turns orphanages into slave labor camps
A god who requires no real repentance
A god who demands incessant worship and affirmation
A god who lets his followers off scot free, but inflicts harsh judgment on others
A god indistinguishable from a cruel, capricious, vindictive abusive father
…a god, in other words, just like them.
Small wonder they worship Donald Trump so blindly.
There is a book that is almost never read in America today, a book that pretty well defines the kind of person who is a white American evangelical Christian: Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
It isn’t exactly banned, but they sure don’t teach it.
It’s a pretty damning indictment of white American evangelical Christians.
Lewis thought he was writing about the bourgeoisie and in truth he was.
It’s just that in this country, bourgeoisie = white American evangelical Christian.
Babbitt should be our new prophetic work, a book warning us about what we have become, reminding us that there is a better way, but it’s not the way found through mindless consumerism and hucksterism.
Babbitt is the white American evangelical Christian god exposed as a naked emperor.
Small wonder many white American evangelical Christians shun the Bible and embrace Atlas Shrugged as their new holy book.
You cannot serve both Christ and Ayn Rand.
© Buzz Dixon