How Christians Radicalized the GOP

Image by Kelly Sikkema.

American Ideology

Thomas Jefferson studied and embraced Enlightenment philosophy, the ideas of the Age of Reason. And they inspired him when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator [nature’s God] with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

In two sentences Jefferson established the philosophical foundation of our nation, equality, “unalienable Rights,” and government derived from the “consent of the governed.” More than a rebellion against the crown, the war of independence was a revolution in how governments relate to citizens. Kings ruled by “Divine right;” in America it would be by the consent of the governed.

The opening phrase of our constitution, “We the People” enforces that philosophy. It is the people who will establish government and law… not the people “trusting in god” or the people “under god” or the people “by the grace of god.” It is the people alone.

Why? Why was it the people alone when so many of the founders were God- fearing Christians?

One Enlightenment thinker, Spinoza, observed that religions lacked the stability needed for lasting government. Not grounded in reason and fact, there could never be certainty about a religion’s claims.

Uncertain opinions would lead to disagreement and eventually schisms, like the bitter and enduring break between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam and the Puritan, Calvinist, and other separatist groups within Christianity. Today there are more than 45,000 Christian sects worldwide and 200 in the US alone.

But there was a greater reason. The human rights envisioned by the founders, freedom, equality, and democracy were not Christian aspirations. The founders believed, for example, that people should be free to follow their personal beliefs whatever they might be. That was a liberty no religion could or would grant.

So, the founders established the first liberal democracy, a government based upon humankind’s ability to reason. That, together with belief in the founding principles–freedom, equality, and democracy–is what defines Americans. American citizens are humanists who believe in religious freedom.

The society the founders created was imperfect, but they established fundamental principles that promised more. As our nation progressed, it has fulfilled that promise by establishing racial and gender equality and expanding human rights. And that progress continues.

Radicalization of the Republican Party

About 40 years ago two angry Christian leaders, Jerry Falwell along with his “Moral Majority” and Pat Robertson with his “Christian Coalition” became active in the Republican Party. They riled at abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage, and feminism, which they saw as violations of god’s laws and evidence of America’s moral decline. And they blamed liberalism. Consider this Robertson tirade:

“Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians. It’s no different. It is the same thing. It is happening all over again. It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians. Wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today. More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history.”

And Jerry Falwell with:

“We’re fighting against humanism; we’re fighting against liberalism…we are fighting against all the systems of Satan that are destroying our nation today…our battle is with Satan himself.

This divisive rhetoric was pure claptrap. Comparing liberal Americans to German Nazis was reprehensible and there was not then nor is there now any liberal attack on Christianity. What Robertson and Falwell perceived as persecution and a battle with Satan was really something quite remarkable. It was America fulfilling its promise of freedom and equality.

Falwell was not battling Satan. Falwell was a Christian extremist battling rational thought and dividing the nation.

When Christianity was forced to reckon with rational thought in the past, reason prevailed. Christians came to see that revelation is flawed. The earth revolves around the sun and is 4.5 billion years old; all species evolve; fathers no longer kill promiscuous daughters and adulterers are no longer stoned to death.

And now Christianity is compelled to make similar rational concessions for abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage, feminism, and gender dysphoria. Reason tells us that none are intrinsically wrong and there is no rational basis for denying anyone the liberty to pursue the life they choose.

Unfortunately, 90 million fundamentalist Christians sympathized with the Falwell-Robertson apocalyptic paranoia, and still do. And though they were out of step with the traditional Republican Party, which embraced reason and democracy, the Party happily accepted the evangelical voting bloc. Today that bloc dominates the Republican Party, and they no longer appreciate that to be an American one must embrace reason and democracy, the essence of which is compromise.


Infected by the Robertson-Falwell paranoia, red states have focused on restricting personal liberties. After the Supreme Court, dominated by Christian conservatives, overturned the woman’s right to abortion, they have curtailed abortion access, even denying abortion in cases of rape, incest and where a mother’s health is endangered, and they interfere in other personal health care decisions, especially matters of gender dysphoria.

What is more, they dictate what can be taught in classrooms and read by students. All these invasions of privacy are driven by Christian ideology.

And in writing a decision which holds that frozen embryos are people, an Alabama Republican supreme court justice recently took a theological stance saying, “life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.” That may be his sincere belief, but he has not a shred of evidence to justify it.

Under Sharia Law belief is the fundamental consideration. But belief is not fact, and in American law, facts matter.

At the Federal level Republicans are unable to compromise or make rational choices for the simple reason that they are no longer grounded in reason and fact. Consider the absurd stopgap funding measures and the ineptitude shown in electing two House speakers in a single session. Compromise is anathema.

And to demand that border security measures be tied to any bill that funded Ukraine and Israel, and then, after that bill was formulated by one of their own, block the House from voting on it is truly stunning, irrational, cynical, and bewildering. The lone benefactor of this chaos and paralysis is Trump who needs immigration as a campaign issue.

MAGA and religious sycophants believe that a Trump autocracy will abandon the principles of freedom and equality. They will then prevail against humanism and rational thought, chasten the woke and punish those who violate their senseless moral mandates. Fundamentalists say that liberals hate America, but who is really doing the hating here.

Fundamentalists also say they love Jesus. One day they may realize that his message of “love thy neighbor” is a call to embrace diversity and inclusion.

But that is wishful thinking. A radicalized Republican Party is no more likely to change its views than the Taliban or Hamas is likely to change theirs.

Our nation will be better served when the GOP is replaced by a party that is pro-American.

Bob Topper is a retired engineer and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.