Editor’s Note: This post by Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of AU’s Church & State magazine. To subscribe and get Church & State delivered to your door every month, become a member of AU.
A few weeks ago, I sat down with my family to watch “Don’t Look Up,” currently streaming on Netflix. There’s been a lot of buzz about this movie, so if you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do. Why? Because its message is relevant to the work we do here at Americans United.
“Don’t Look Up” tells the story of two astronomers who discover that a comet is on a collision course with Earth. Unless something is done, it will destroy the planet in six months. Unfortunately, the Trumpian president called President Janie Orlean (played flawlessly by Meryl Streep) is more concerned with her poll numbers than saving the world, and too many Americans embrace fake-news claims that the comet is a hoax.
Many viewers have described the movie as a commentary on climate change. It is that to be sure, but it’s much more. It’s also a biting commentary on some Americans’ refusal to see what is plainly before them and the dangers of elevating ideology over facts.
Christian nationalism appears in the movie explicitly only once when President Orlean says during a speech: “May Jesus Christ bless every single one of you – especially the members of my own party.” But the underlying theory of Christian nationalism is really on trial in this movie.
Consider the COVID pandemic and the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. In both cases, Christian nationalists are telling Americans stories that require those who buy into them to deny clear truths.
Even as the death toll for Americans surpasses 850,000 and hospitals across the country once again run out of beds, Christian nationalists continue to demand religious exemptions from mandatory vaccination policies and to spread anti-vaccine propaganda. Most recently, they’ve been claiming that the spread of the omicron variant among vaccinated people proves they were right all along. It does no such thing. Unvaccinated people are dying of omicron, while the vast majority of vaccinated don’t even end up in the hospital. One study found that an unvaccinated person is 13 times more likely to require hospitalization than a vaccinated person. If you’re like me, you know people who’ve had the omicron variant but because they were vaccinated, it was basically a bad cold. The evidence that vaccines work is right in front of us.
Now let’s turn to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. Christian nationalists want us to believe that Antifa was responsible or that the rioters were really patriots and the assault on the Capitol wasn’t so bad after all.
Again, we saw with our own eyes what happened: A mob of Trump supporters, people literally draped in MAGA gear, swarmed the Capitol, vandalized the building and assaulted police officers and the press. Many of them hoisted crosses and other symbols of the Christian faith. The photos and videos prove this. As writer Katherine Stewart observed in The New York Times, “The most serious attempt to overthrow the American constitutional system since the Civil War would not have been feasible without the influence of America’s Christian nationalist movement.”
Christian nationalists would have us look away from these facts and deny them. They have a track record of doing that. These are the people, after all, who insist that America was founded to be a “Christian nation” despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary. They’re the people who claim that biblical creationism is a credible scientific alternative to evolution. They’re the ones who say LGBTQ people are a threat to society.
There’s a scene toward the end of “Don’t Look Up” where President Orlean is rallying her base at an outdoor event. During her speech, a few people look up and see the comet streaking across the sky. They realize they’ve been lied to and start screaming at her. The president’s reaction is to tell them to stop looking up; they need to look down.
Christian nationalists would have us look down all the time. They would have us look down whenever presented with facts that conflict with their power. They would have us look down to avoid uncomfortable truths. They would have us look down to cover up their transgressions.
At Americans United, we never hesitate to call out Christian nationalists for their untruths. We let them know that their attempts to mislead will not succeed. And we remind them and all Americans that simply looking away from the truth makes it no less true.
Americans United looks up. We’re so grateful you do, too.