Ongoing analysis of the Capitol Riots continues as footage of the event is scrutinized. Although the press is puzzled, those who study religion—underfunded and ignored in the academy—aren’t really surprised. A recent story from the Associated Press explores how Christian Nationalism, one of the most dangerous forces in the United States, played a large role in the event. Christian Nationalism is one example of what I call weaponized religion. As someone who’s spent over four decades studying religion minutely, it’s pretty clear when religion begins to slip its moorings and is becoming radicalized. Generally it begins when adherents refuse to hear any views but their own. They believe their version of their religion is the only “one, true faith” and this gives them the mandate to attack any who believe differently. In the case of Christianity it’s very difficult to see what any of this has to do with a carpenter from Nazareth.
Indeed, evangelical Christians themselves are exploring what is now being called “Republican Jesus.” This Jesus isn’t the one from the Good Book. Far from it. No humble shepherd saying “turn the other cheek” fits this image. Long ago I read Stephen Prothero’s American Jesus. In it he analyzed how the American appropriation of the Jewish rabbi became a muscular, masculine fighter. Not the kind of guy who’d let Roman authorities nail him to a cross. And certainly not a softie who would favor outcasts, women, and children over the rich and powerful. This image of Jesus, who draws a hard line on certain trigger issues, is as patently false as any reconstruction can be. And yet it drives unruly mobs into the halls of power. Universities, meanwhile, cut religion departments.
I don’t pretend to be a prophet, but this issue isn’t going away. Our culture has long harbored the myth of America as the “new Israel.” The leaders of Christian Nationalism are organized and they have a clear agenda to take over the country. Like other serious issues that don’t have to do with making money, it’s simply overlooked as irrelevant. When the mainstream media gets a glimpse at what’s been going on in such groups, it always seems surprised. The kind of elitism that divorces itself from the everyday simply can’t be informed of what’s actually happening. Religion is a very powerful driving force. It motivates many far more than money does. We see it plainly when it becomes weaponized. By then, however, it could be too late.