Live and Let Die: Reflections on the Non-Religious Right
Churches are in decline. Non-religious conservatism is on the rise. More and more people describe themselves as “no” when it comes to religious affiliation. It is a common assumption that the political left is more secular while the political right is more religious. But is it true? Maybe. But, if so, that’s not as true as it used to be. In a essay written for the New York Times, Nate Hochman seems to both lament the shrinking religious right and pragmatically give reasons why religious conservatives should side with social conservatives and seemingly tolerate white nationalists in the New Culture War. I hope to show how it will implode.
Atheists are by definition non-religious. But people can be non-religious and still believe in some form of God. Deism comes to mind as an example. Non-religious does not mean anti-religious. To be non-religious means to adhere to a vague set of unexamined beliefs. Although we know that the majority of Trump supporters were non-religious people. We are aware that the majority of white evangelicals supported Donald Trump’s candidacy. But they were only 32% of Trump voters in 2016. The share of Republicans who went to church fell between 2010, while it was 75% to 63% in 2021. The increase in no -religious seems to make more cruelty in the culture.
A vague cause
Republican politicians also speak in less religious terms. They discuss being “anti-woke” and appeal to a threatened “American way”. The most important aspect of the agenda is no longer what they stand for but what they fight. America is invaded by people they don’t like. Church leaders know this too. The WCA/GMC splinter group in the UMC is waging a similar campaign. The call is not to Jesus Christ but to whom we fear will be responsible. Our way of life is threatened. It’s the same song with a new tune. But potential allies who offer analysis of the cause are dismissed as elites and held in suspicion.
Once again, church leaders have also received this message. The TED Talk format of sermons neglects any real work with Scripture. Themes range from “God wants a better life for you” to “God is an American Patriot.” Culture wars are distractions from class wars. There is pressure on Church leaders to deliver messages that are not religious in nature.
A pollster showed in 2018 that non-religious Trump supporters were more likely to support a border wall, tighter restrictions on legal immigration and some outright bans on certain people from entering the United States. Church attendance, according to the same pollster, has softened people’s attitudes toward issues of race, identity and immigration.
Progressive Christians tend to attack the religious right on these issues. But it seems that the non-religious right is more susceptible to bigotry. Yet gay rights and abortion rights are apparently more open than their religious counterparts. It’s a mixed bag. Live and let live is okay to a certain extent. But compassion for the fate of others is lost. The non-religious right has replaced its church leaders with people like Tucker Carlson. According to Hochman, this development frightens Andrew T. Walker of the Ethics and Policy Center. He talks about opposing “woke madness”. Walker then concludes that the policy of “functional pagans…causes Christians to embrace or condone the disposition to cruelty and license.”
We warned you
History shows that Hochman and Walker come late to these conclusions. Cruelty and license have always been part of the conservatism they stand for. Political politics allowing people to go hungry, suffer and die from lack of care so that very rich people can have another yacht is nothing but cruel licentiousness. The only option for Christians is to oppose such an ideology. Live and let live doesn’t make sense when you let people starve. We told you. And you hear it again.
History also shows that people eventually stopped cruelty for a while. The changes don’t come on the battlefields. They arise when those responsible for enforcing the status quo stop enforcing it. Christians need to remind us of this. We put our moral point of view on Love.