The GOP Needs to Shed its God Problem Before it’s Too Late

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Probably no group is having a harder time dealing with Obama’s re-election than the Religious Right. People like Karl Rove and William Bennett can look, or at least pretend to look, for reasons: we need more appealing candidates, is my favorite, as if saying “fuck you” to the American people with a smile makes it less offensive.

There is the suggestion that the GOP needs a bigger tent but no real ideas have been put forward to accomplish that goal without violating their precious ideological purity. Convincing people the GOP is on their side and not letting them find out the GOP actually wants to screw them, seems to be the frontrunner currently.

They’ve even convinced themselves, like Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), “who,” Right Wing Watch reports, ”on Friday told Family Research Council president Tony Perkins that conservatives in the House won a ‘mandate’ in 2012,” that they somehow won the election.

But the Religious Right-dominated Republican Party has a God Problem. They externalize this by telling us that we’re the ones with the issue but, as we don’t put God in our politics in the first place (this is our problem, of course!), we can’t possibly have an issue with “Him.” The issue is all theirs, and it’s come to dominate their thinking, with predictable results.

So we see people like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO),  getting together with Pat Boone, Pat Roberson, and Joseph Farah of WND, and Farah’s favorite messianic lunatic, Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, to talk about what to do about God destroying our country because we elected Barack Obama – again. What we don’t see is any attempt to come to grips with real problems, or even with reality itself.

God tells them this and God tells them that. God tells them to run for president, God issues threats through them to the American people. God promises them victory. But then God does not deliver that victory and they are left standing at the altar like Jesus’ disciples when he promised them the kingdom of God, and then was promptly carted off and nailed to a couple of pieces of wood on a charge of sedition.

It has been suggested that cognitive dissonance actually created Christianity, and it has certainly sustained the Republican Party and in particular, the Religious Right. Here’s how it goes for those new to the idea and the term. Scholar Hugh Jackson argues that the disciples had reacted by that conviction dawning on them. Jackson bases his argument on the theory of cognitive dissonance, first introduced in the 1950s by Leon Festinger, which he explains in the following terms:

Whenever an individual holds two cognitions (beliefs, ideas, opinions) which are psychologically inconsistent, he will experience a drive to reduce this inconsistency. Dissonance may be reduced by changing either or both of the existing cognitions or by adding new cognitions which reduce the conflict by putting it in a new perspective.

Jackson suggests then, that “the belief in the resurrection of Jesus might be explicable as a creative response to the disconfirming event of the crucifixion, whereby the disciples were able to maintain their faith in a modified form.” Ironically then, it was the very failure of prophecy regarding the Messiah that is supposed to have held the community of the disciples together.[1]

Ekkehard W. Stegemann and Wolfgang Stegemann have explored the early community of Jesus’ followers as a “charismatic movement,” something which also allows for the possibility of a group to not only survive the death of its leader but, so the authors say, “be the initial spark, as it were, for the development and reshaping of the charisma.”[2] It has also been suggested that the resurrection was an inner, spiritual experience (as was Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus) and not an actual encounter with the revivified body of their former leader. After all, in Paul we have no empty tomb. We are simply told that he rose on the third day and appeared to certain of his followers (1 Cor. 15.4-6).[3] Gerd Lüdemann feels that Paul and Peter, whom he calls the “primary witnesses” to the resurrection, “became victims of self-deception.”[4]

Self-deception is key. If Jesus’ followers deceived themselves 1,983 years ago, his pseudo-followers, those I call ”aberrochristians,” are doing so still.  In his January newsletter, Dr. James Dobson of Family Talk Radio reveals his own endless capacity for self-deception. Unsurprisingly, he laments Obama’s re-election. After all, he says, “Nearly everything I have stood for these past 35 years went down to defeat.”

WHY everything Dobson stood for these past 35 years went down to defeat doesn’t seem to be something he can comprehend.  If you pose an argument, and you base your argument on a false premise, it is a matter of simple fact that your argument will be as flaccid as your original premise. And that is what Dobson does as he invokes the God Problem: “God has been gracious to us,” he tells his readers. You can hear Dobson’s pontifications on over 1,100 radio outlets, you can even download aps that allow you to listen 24 hours a day!

What he doesn’t explain is how God fits into this picture. Democrats, according to Dobson, don’t have God. Yet they have all these same things (including even better aps!). And on top of it all, they won the election. You probably see the makings of cognitive dissonance already, even if you’ve never given it a thought before. How can the impossible be possible?

So Dobson is discouraged with the results of Election Day: how can those without God triumph over those with God? After all, as the old adage goes, “If God is with us, who is against us? (Romans 8:31). Dobson cannot comprehend how the Democrats, with their godless party platform, could defeat the Republicans, who had “one of the finest conservative documents of this era.” It was, he reminds his readers, “strongly pro-life, pro-marriage, and contained other components that conservatives cheered. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, chaired the writing committee and he is to be commended for his work.”

Opposed to this “sublime” platform was the godless heresy of the Democrats. “Consider, for example,” he says, “these four shocking components of the Democrats’ 2012 platform”:

1. Abortion should be legalized through nine months of pregnancy.

2. Same-sex marriages should be permitted by law in every state in the nation.

3. Democrats took every reference to God out of their platform during the Convention.

4. Finally, it was decided that Israel would not be permitted to locate its capital in the city of Jerusalem.

Here is where Dobson’s false premises bite him in his ass. The Democratic Platform does not argue for legalized abortion through nine months of pregnancy. The Democratic Platform says,

The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way.

Roe v. Wade permits abortions in the first two trimesters of pregnancy, not in all nine months. I do not know of any Democratic politicians suggesting that women should be having abortions in the eighth or ninth month of pregnancy, unless Dobson is lamenting the liberal tendency to favor saving the mother’s life when it is at danger, while he seems to embrace the idea that God hates mothers and wants them to die. In fact, the facts regarding abortion are anything but what the Religious Right insists they are.

It is true that Democrats favor marriage equality, but then, so do the American people, a point Dobson is quick to ignore. And yes, the Democrats took God out of their platform and were, at best, lukewarm to the idea of reintroducing him. But where is it written that a political party must be Christian, or even theistic? Where in the Constitution is it written that religion must be introduced into politics? The Constitution doesn’t even mention God, Dobson’s or anyone else’s, so why must a party platform?

And Jerusalem, O Jerusalem! What has Jerusalem to do with Washington? Well, quite a bit for fundamentalists like Dobson. But in fact, the Democratic platform says of Jerusalem, “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.”

Dobson’s problem is what I have termed the Problem of God, which is not to be confused with God’s Problem, or the question of why God permits suffering. The problem of God is inextricably tied to the question of why the GOP not only permits, but demands suffering by telling Americans, “Fuck you, on behalf of God,” and then expects everybody to think, “Wow, what a great idea! Fuck us? Yeah, I’m all for it!”

Americans don’t agree with the Republican platform. In increasing numbers they do not agree with it. Americans want Roe v. Wade to stand. Americans want marriage equality. Americans want an America focused on America’s problems, not Israel’s, and increasingly, Americans do not want the Republican God. I say Republican God because the God foisted on the American people by the GOP is not the God worshipped by most of Americans (thus Rick Santorum’s excommunications of tens of millions of mainline Protestants).

The Problem of God is not going away any time soon. The aftermath of the 2012 elections have been ample demonstration of that. Rather than stepping back and rethinking their position, the GOP and the Religious Right have, at best, advocated cosmetic changes. Once having convinced themselves that they are doing God’s will on earth, they can hardly do otherwise than ride their out-of-control train to the end of the rails.


[1] Hugh Jackson, “The Resurrection Belief of the Earliest Church: A Response to the Failure of Prophecy?” The Journal of Religion 55 (1975), 415-416. Jackson, based on the insufficient evidence provided by the New Testament, allows for the possibility that some of Jesus’ disciples may have been so shocked by events that they abandoned their faith. For Festinger’s theory see Leon Festinger, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Stanford University Press, 1957). N.T. Wright’s negative assessment of cognitive dissonance as an explanation for the resurrection stories can be found in N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 697-701.

[2] Ekkehard W. Stegemann and Wolfgang Stegemann, The Jesus Movement: A Social History of Its First Century (Minneapolis, 1999), 195.

[3] John L. Cheek, “The Historicity of the Markan Resurrection Narrative,” Journal of Bible and Religion 27 (1959), 191-200.

[4] Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2004), chapter 3.

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