In this episode of Marksism, the editors discuss Tobias Cremer’s article about an emerging post-religious right in America and the US Capitol riot. They also cover Eric Patterson’s article about religious freedom in the Middle East ten years after the Arab Spring.
Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism, with fellow editors and fellow Mark(c)s, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton, addressing two articles published in Providence this week. The first of which was by our German contributor Tobias Cremer, who has done a lot of work on right-wing nationalism in continental Europe, and who speculates that there is an emerging post-Christian right in America that will potentially push aside or displace the more traditionally Christian religious right and be more aligned with rightist groups in Europe that may profess to be defenders of Christendom but are themselves religiously indifferent and sometimes personally hostile to traditional Christianity. Tobias pivots off of the attack on the US Capitol on January 6 and the odd brew of the religious, or rather folk religious, nationalism that seemed to motivate a lot of the attackers. I would say that that kind of folk religion American style is probably still more connected to traditional religion than I would say the far-right political party in Germany, the Alliance for Deutschland, the Alliance for Germany, which again professes to want to defend Christian Europe but is itself at best indifferent towards religion. I think religiosity in America is still for better or for worse, so wherever it’s coming from politically, is still much more vibrant and heartfelt than it would be in most European societies, including on the right. But Marc LiVecche, you have lived in Europe yourself, including in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. Where do you think America is in terms of possibly transitioning into a post-Christian political right?
LiVecche: Yeah, great question. It was a good article, very interesting, and I should probably qualify where I’ve lived so all my Slovak or Czech friends don’t hound me after this. I never technically lived in Czechoslovakia. I got there a few years afterward. I lived in Slovakia, but point taken. I suspect we’re really early in that transition, if we are on the transition. I think along the lines you do; I think we’re very early on. I think what we’ve seen is a real thing. There is a post-Christian right just like there’s a post-Christian left, but I don’t suspect it holds sway. I don’t think it has anything like the kind of momentum necessary to push out the more traditional Christian Conservative. So, I think we have plenty of time to right the ship, so to speak. I think the more interesting question is to note if there is overlap. What both groups, the post-Christian right and the Christian right, what both groups oppose and why it is that at least the Christian right seems to think that they can form an alliance even if it’s an uneasy uncomfortable alliance in order to stand against something that they see coming from the left. I think that in terms of fixing the situation or addressing the situation, I think a lot of work still has to be done in identifying what it is that concerns the Christian right and why it is that potentially standing alongside the Trump phenomenon or the post-Christian right might make political sense. That’s where I would want to go with it.
Tooley: Mark Melton, you have your own European experiences. How do you assess the rise, the potential rise, of a post-Christian right in America? It strikes me that the post-Christian left is hyper-egalitarian coercively, while the post-Christian right of course would deny the very premises of human equality, but what are your thoughts?
Melton: Right. So, yeah, I lived in France and Scotland combined for a couple of years, and so, I actually wrote about some of those experiences last fall where I talked about the idea of the religious economy theory and how in Europe you have a lot of state influence in religion. There’s this theory, and there seems to be some good evidence to suggest that it causes a decrease in actual religious practice, but you still have an increase in, or a large number of people, who will still identify as Christian, or Protestant, or Catholic, or whatever their nation is supposed to be. They’ll identify with it without actually practicing it. And in some places this can cause some violence where you have people who adhere to the ideology and they’re “Team Pope,” or they’re “Team Orange,” or they’re “Team Whatever,” “Team Muhammad.” But they don’t actually practice religion, and so, those groups actually tend to be a bit more violent. There’s been some research into that, and so, the situation here, I think that we have much more vibrant religious practice because of our free exercise clause where it’s easier to set up churches. Churches don’t receive nearly as much support from the state as some of the European state churches do. And so, in that research, it kind of argued that we’re going to have more vibrancy, but we do have this decline in religious practice. I think IRD probably does more research into the exact numbers and which groups are declining, but it tends to be the mainline I believe, and I also believe the Catholic Church attendance has gone down. I think you two might be able to speak more specific to those numbers, but I wonder if part of this post-religious right is connected to the decline of some of the other main churches declining. And so, we do I think see some of this with the Capitol riot where we have people who, I think Jenny Cudd is an example possibly where she, I’d have to go back and double check the video, but I believe she kind of mentioned some Christian language. But it’s kind of hard to see any other Christian language that she’s used when she was running for a mayoral position in Texas, but she was inside the Capitol, and she’s since been arrested. And there are some other characters that we’ve seen who have used Christian language. In fact, we’re going to run a review on Monday about the QAnon Shaman, and he’s kind of this person who clearly isn’t very Christian. I believe he’s ex-Catholic. But he wrote a book last year, or a couple years ago, that he calls himself God-loving. And so, how does that actually play into it, like he’s claiming he has a Christian label, but there seems to be a lack of evidence of Christian practice. And so, I think when we’re talking about this post-Christian right, it’s a developing trend. It seems to be an emerging trend, but it’s going to be very, very interesting, and I think it’d be very troubling if it went the way that it’s gone in Europe.
Tooley: Shifting to Eric Patterson’s article on the failures of the Arab Spring 10 years ago to usher in democracy anywhere except for Tunisia, and he credits that in part to a failure to understand American understandings of religious pluralism and separation of church and state, which majority-Muslim cultures understand as almost a direct attack upon the sovereignty of Allah or some kind of diminishing of the public importance of religion. They often hear these aspirations to the lens of their experience with French culture over the last two centuries, which tends to be much more restrictive, if not hostile towards the public role of religion. So, Marc LiVecche, did you agree with Eric Patterson, who seemed very optimistic about it, that if these concepts were properly explained to many audiences, they would be much more open to religious pluralism, and freedom of religion, and freedom of speech. What do you think?
LiVecche: I like his argument. I think there’s a lot there. Am I as maybe sanguine as is he is, or maybe he appears to be, I doubt it. I sort of doubt he is as well. It’s certainly not just going to be a matter of clarifying terms and then all will be well, but there is certainly something to that. And I think it goes deeper than that. It’s not simply a misunderstanding of what we might mean by separation of church and state or secular society or pluralism. It has to do with their understanding of our understanding of freedom, personal and collective. I think there’s all sorts of civilizational misunderstandings. They have their moral narratives that shape them in a particular way. We have ours. And I think it’s very difficult for them to morally perceive how it is that we morally perceive the world. I think it’s very interesting this notion that American separation of church and state is different than French laïcité, which is certainly true. I think laïcité in many regards is abhorrent, but it seems equally true that here there is an increasing number of people that are perfectly comfortable with the French conception of laïcité, and that there are groups that are attempting to push religion out of the public square altogether. So, in that sense, the Muslim observer in another country might not be entirely wrong when they perceive that American ideals of the separation of church and state are something like laïcité. That’s not in the founding. That’s not how the majority of us see it, but there are certainly those who wish for religion to remain a private event and that it doesn’t rear its head in public discourse. We see that at present.
Tooley: Mark Melton, are you hopeful that democracy, pluralism, and religious freedom can come to the Mideast in the near future, or is history stacked against that possibility?
Melton: I think it would be, it’s going to, it would have to be a long slow slog. And a lot of these things are going to have to be kind of almost like in a Burkian-esque style, like slowly built over time. If you try to push for radical change, you might end up with more turmoil. But I mean, I think there’s always reason for hope, and talking from a Christian realist perspective, I think one of the reasons why I kind of fell into Christian realism is that when I read international relations and read foreign policy stuff, I would find myself to be an extreme realist and extremely pessimistic, because I believe humans are sinful and in human depravity and whatnot. But I also have this Christian hope that God and the Holy Spirit can still work. Things can still get better. But the more and more I look at all of these situations and read these histories of different countries, it’s always going to be a long, slow generational slog. And even in the United States, even from the very start, we would not want to live in I think the United States of 1776 today, because of the situations of course of slavery and everything else. Even religious freedom I think was, we still had established churches at that point that were slowly being dismantled. And so, I think we’re in a much better situation today, but it takes generations to really get there. So, and I think there’s a lot of writers even in Islam who, I’m not very familiar, I haven’t read a lot of his stuff, but there’s a Mustafa Akyol, if I’m pronouncing his name right, who has written from a Muslim perspective that’s going to be more of a liberal view. And so, I think that if you have those types of writers, over time I think they can have an impact. But you’re going to have to have better free exercise. It can’t be this laïcité situation where you try to keep the religion out of the public square. And in France, where you ban people from wearing religious symbols. When I taught in France, we had this whole lecture at orientation about how you can’t wear religious symbols, and for me, I have a cross which I wear underneath and I couldn’t wear it out. Which is fine. I’d never wear it. But what they were really getting at was like they didn’t want to have you wear any type of Muslim dress or Muslim garb, whether it’s the burqa or the hijab. And so, you can’t have that type of laïcité pushing religion out of the public square. You have to allow people to freely express their religion.
Tooley: For listeners who haven’t read these articles, check them out at the Providence website. Tobias Cremer on a post-religious right in America and Eric Patterson on consequences of the Arab Spring. Gentlemen and fellow Mark(c)s, thank you for another scintillating conversation. Until next week, bye-bye.