Stephen K. Bannon, a controversial adviser to President Donald J. Trump, yesterday laid out his plan to “deconstruct” (read: destroy) government during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference.
The idea that you can simply blow up a government agency or program – even if it has been around for a long time, even if it works and even if people rely on it – seems to be much in vogue in right-wing quarters these days. Sadly, Bannon is far from the only one out there bent on nihilistic destruction.
The Detroit Free Press recently ran a story about what it described as a Catholic “fringe group” that also want to lay things to waste. This group, called Church Militant, has ambitious goals: It wants to tear down the wall of separation between church and replace our democracy with a far-right Catholic king who will decide what’s best for us.
But if it can’t get a king, Church Militant is willing to settle for Trump.
Medieval kings make great characters in an HBO series, but they weren't so cool in real life.
The organization, headed by an “ex-gay” man named Michael Voris, runs a website and TV station. These vehicles, Voris hopes, will bring everyone into line with his version of Catholicism. Strangely, he seems to believe that Trump, a nominal Presbyterian not known for his piety, will lead the way.
I’ve wondered how religious zealots could line up behind Trump, a clearly amoral man who’s biblically illiterate and whose idea of a spiritual adviser is a money grubbing Prosperity Gospel preacher named Paula White.
The Free Press story sheds some light on that: You see, God sometimes uses bad people for his own ends.
Voris cites Constantine the Great, the fourth-century Roman emperor who began the process of Christianizing the Western world, as an example. Constantine, Voris asserts, was “not a moral man” and a “power-hungry egomaniac” – but none of that matters because the things he did helped the church.
“The personal proclivities, the personal sins or life of a particular leader is a separate discussion from how that man’s view of the world might influence his policies,” Voris remarked. “And if that policy is favorable to the church, well then, very good.”
This is the sort of thinking that leads religious leaders to embrace dictators, strongmen and autocrats. It persuades them to trade their souls for a few policy crumbs. It convinces them that the government doesn’t have to respect the right of conscience.
That way lies madness. The idea that church and state can combine and force people to adopt certain theological beliefs has been tried over and over again. Every time it spawns persecution, terror and death. As a traditionalist Catholic, Voris must know some things about church history and how badly efforts to impose a rigid orthodoxy have turned out – the Crusades and the Inquisition come to mind – yet he continues to insist that Trump can lead the way to some sort of “moral” (and apparently uber-Catholic) country. Really.
What would this government-imposed religious uniformity look like in modern-day, pluralistic America? For starters, women aren’t going to have any reproductive freedom, and LGBTQ rights will be obliterated. Religious freedom, especially as it applies to Muslims, whom Voris and his network seem to despise, will be a memory.
The secular state? Forget it. Here’s what Voris has to say about that: “The problem with America is America never sat down and had the right discussion about which religion is the right religion.”
A few years ago, Voris released a video in which he said, “The only way to run a country is by benevolent dictatorship, a Catholic monarch who protects his people from themselves and bestows on them what they need, not necessarily what they want.” He asserts that Americans today live under a “secular dictatorship” and insists that morals are found in his version of Catholicism “more perfectly than any other” belief system.
These theocrats alternately amuse and horrify me. They’re all convinced only they have the “right” religion, only they have correctly interpreted a holy book – be it Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc. Hundreds of fundamentalist denominations claim to be the one and only true path to salvation. The problem with that is obvious.
I should note that officials with the Catholic Church keep Voris and his group at more than arm’s length. The Archdiocese of Detroit has issued statements disavowing Church Militant, and Voris is banned from speaking in local Catholic parishes.
It’s not hard to understand why. Voris’ group is truly a fringe movement – albeit one with a few hundred thousand followers on Facebook and what the Free Press calls "a multimedia empire." But despite their reliance on modern technology, these extremist theocrats are parroting a view straight from the Middle Ages.
Instead of pining for the 12th century, let’s celebrate America’s achievement: absolute freedom of conscience resting on a wall of separation between church and state.
In fact, do more than celebrate it. Vow to defend it against the “deconstructionists” who lust to destroy it.