An excerpt from Paul A. Djupe’s article We Should Probably Stop Thinking Religion is a Solution to MAGA.
In his latest piece for the New York Times, he [David French] describes the “Rage and Joy of Donald Trump’s MAGA America.” It’s a neat argument, backed by his personal observations while immersed in the South, that MAGA supporters are not just angry about the state of the world and the leftist/globalist/whatevers they believe are wrongly in charge. They are actually pretty happy in the MAGA communities they’ve inhabited in the traveling circus following Trump around the country and in their local communities. The importance of that observation is this: they will need a replacement for that communal joy to encourage them to sever their connection to MAGA, not just steps that would defuse their anger.
That’s all fine with me in the sense that it’s worth studying more systematically to see if there’s something to it.
What I’m concerned with is his extension to religion and especially evangelicalism. The parallel he draws is this: “Evangelicals are a particularly illustrative case. About half of self-identified evangelicals now attend church monthly or less often. They have religious zeal, but they lack religious community. So they find their band of brothers and sisters in the Trump movement.” I’ve heard this sort of argument A LOT in the Trump years, trying to make the argument that church-involved people are the good, well-behaved ones who wouldn’t support Trump, while the non-attenders who still identify as religious/evangelical/whatever are the ones doing the objectionable thing in the news at the moment. The implication is that if those MAGA types could just get back to church (or in some other community), then the MAGA problem would be solved.
What I think French and many others are missing is that church involvement is not the crucial dividing line here, but instead the kind of religious beliefs that the people hold are. This is a particular blindspot among some scholars of religion who think of American society as divided between church attenders versus those who are not. Of course there’s some of that, but if you really want to understand who is MAGA and who isn’t, you need to be thinking about apocalypticism. The people fixated on dividing the world into the forces of good and evil (demonic, embodied evil), see Christians facing rampant persecution, and foresee (yep, prophecy belief is a big part of this) a final battle ahead are on a different plane of existence from other people. And they certainly do feel warmly toward Donald Trump, anointed to be their savior.
David French laid out a thoughtful approach to thinking about how to deradicalize MAGA folks, but he’s wrong in his assumptions about the role of religion here. Among some, church involvement as it shows through apocalyptic beliefs is an accelerant of MAGA, not a replacement for it. The dividing line is clear. Those with religious beliefs that draw sharp lines between good and evil and feature elites who are making the case that Trump is the anointed ruler of America (and whose indictments are demonic) are the most dangerous and powerful support structures of the MAGA movement. We need to stop thinking that religion is the antidote – particular forms of it, like the New Apostolic Reformation, may be the cause of the problem.
Professor Paul A. Djupe directs the Data for Political Research program at Denison University, is an affiliated scholar with PRRI, the series editor of Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics (Temple), and co-creator of religioninpublic.blog.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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