Theocratic thinking on the 2016 presidential campaign trail
Connected with the divine
Claiming to have God on your side can be philosophically problematic, mainly because without logical evidence, you are invoking an imaginary force with extra powers and unexplained superior morality as an ally and justifier of your actions, without risking much social scrutiny. As a politician running for office in a nation that, according to the 2010 results of the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, has over three-hundred-fifty-thousand religious congregations, with an estimated total of over one- hundred-and-fifty-million adherents, asserting that God is on your side may constitute more an act of political calculation than an act of faith. This type of political scheming is not new in human history; rather, it’s probably as old as human political opportunism.
In search for political power, rulers from ancient civilizations as well as contemporary political leaders have, on innumerable occasions, created a connection with God merely by claiming that such a connection exists. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz belong to this category of evangelical politicians, or so they both tell us. To the surprise of many, it turns out that God in the United States happens to be Republican.
Early crucifixion: The Marco Rubio case
The principle of the separation between church and state constitutes one of the guiding principles of western political democracy. This separation between faith and politics is also required by the First Amendment to the American Constitution, which allows all citizens the freedom to practice any religion of their choice, but also stops government from favoring any particular religion. The violation of this principle constitutes the main mistake of theocratic politicians.
Rubio’s use of faith for political advantage is not new to his political career; his passion for ‘country and God’ is only eclipsed by his religious contortionism: first born as Catholic, later converted to Mormonism while living in Nevada for three years, then, after returning to Florida, he was confirmed and married in the Catholic church, but also attended a Baptist church for years, and currently splits his time among these last two. He has also been quite diligent about inserting his religious beliefs into the campaign. After Time Magazine’s cover presented him as ‘the Republican savior’ he stated: “Let me be clear about one thing: there is only one savior and it is not me. It’s Jesus Christ who came down to Earth and died for our sins”. The implicit Christian arrogance of the statement is clear and offensive for those of different religious faith. Also it is completely contrarian to the principles of the First Amendment, not to mention the questionable logic of finding commendable that someone—Jesus in this case—would die (sent by his Father nonetheless) for undetermined sins committed by previous and future generations and people of all ages, including innocent children.
During his speech announcing his dropping out of the presidential campaign as result of his early electoral crucifixion in the Florida primary, Rubio once again managed to insert God’s will in political events by saying: “ it is not God’s plan that I be president in 2016 or maybe ever”. The introduction of religion into the realm of politics not only brings anti-democratic exclusionary practices into society, but also brings up unsolvable contradictions and faulty thinking. Is the social construction named God really busy planning who will win the American elections? Do human actions have nothing to do with political results? Is all social life really planned in advance by a creature that historically seems to have used very little time for planning how to eliminate social injustices or economic inequalities, unless these of course, are part of his plan? Most telling, through history, who have been the main beneficiaries of this particular God’s social planning?
Cruz and karaoke evangelism
Ted Cruz is perhaps the candidate with the more vociferous evangelic message in the electoral trail. It was not coincidental that the launching of his presidential campaign was announced at Liberty University in Virginia, an academic institution founded by evangelist Jerry Falwell that, according to the Guardian (March 23,2015), advertises itself as a “training ground for the Champions of Christ “ and the “Largest Christian College in the World”. Cruz peppered his announcement speech with constant repetitions in his notorious karaoke sermon-like style: “our rights do not come from man; they come from God almighty”. In the same event Cruz also openly courted the Christian right by saying: “Today, roughly half of born-again Christians aren’t voting. They are staying home […] Imagine instead millions of people of faith going out to the polls and voting our values”.
For Cruz, ‘voting our values’ means clearly the unification of conservative Christian faith with governance and public policies, as exemplified by his message to Pastors in America titled “Stand with God and Be on the Right Side of History”. Again, as we saw with his colleague Rubio, with Cruz, we witness the clear intention of Christian conservatism to eliminate the separation of church and state, effectively erasing the First Amendment charge to separate politics and faith of religion and culture, and the poorly concealed desire to impose the values of Christian conservative evangelism upon the rest of civil society.
But while political evangelism has been busy conducting its theocratic proselytism hoping to agglutinate most of the American population around its values, their campaign shows mediocre results and a wretched misreading of contemporary American culture, which in spite all of its structural and social inequalities is a pluralistic religious society with a population that does not want to automatically echo right wing conservative Christian values. Indeed, not all the three hundred and fifty thousand congregations mentioned above are evangelical, monotheistic and conservative. Among them we find not only non-conservative, non evangelical Christian centered congregations, but also congregations based on the Muslim faith, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and other American Native and Afro-Caribbean congregations just to mention a few.
Equally important, in terms of the pluralism that characterizes the U.S., is the doubling of atheists in America in the last several years, according to the Pew Research Center, and they tend to distance themselves from the Republican Party. In a 2014 report, the same center states that 22.8 percent of the U.S. population is religiously unaffiliated, atheists made up 3.1 percent of the population, and agnostics make up 4 percent of the U.S. population. The 2014 General Social Survey reported that 21 percent of American had no religion with 3 percent being atheist and 5 percent being agnostic.
Again, if we claim, as Cruz does, to have God on our side or that standing on God’s side means being on the right side of history, the statement becomes antidemocratic, exclusionary, and contradictory. Which God is he talking about? Just the Christian God? How come this God carries more value than other Gods? Who determines what the right side of history is? How can we measure the political performance of this God and his self-assigned divine candidates without looking at the social conditions where humans live? What is the evidence of Ted Cruz’s connection with this entity call God? Or is he bringing into existence this connection simply by saying that such a connection exists?
Let’s distance ourselves from the anti-democratic karaoke machine of theocratic evangelism and get ourselves closer to reason and social justice.
Enrique Quintero was a political activist in Latin America during the 70’s, then taught ESL and Second Language Acquisition in the Anchorage School District, and Spanish at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He currently lives and writes in Olympia.