- Viktor Orbán reportedly does not attend church. Benjamin Netanyahu eats at non-kosher restaurants. New York libertine Donald Trump lacks all manner of evident religious virtue.
- Yet it is a fact that today’s crop of aspiring authoritarians invoke religious themes and symbols, despite not being strict adherents to their respective traditions. Of course, there is nothing new about the opportunistic use of religion by politicians. The scholars Garret Martin and Carolyn Gallaher have remarked that ‘Orbán’s use of religion is no different from Ronald Reagan’s embrace of Christian evangelicals in the late 1970s.’ According to these explanations, such figures cynically appeal to religion, despite not being true believers. Given this purported sincerity deficit, a conversation in this register toggles between accusations of hypocrisy and instrumentalism. How can such obviously corrupted figures claim to speak on behalf of a Christian or Jewish nation? And how can voters who claim to be animated by religious values be so blind?
- Tempting as it is, the hypocrisy diagnosis does not quite map onto the emerging social landscape. There is instead a deeper and more interesting shift occurring in the world toward a new post-liberal or illiberal order of religion and politics. Understanding the nature of this transformation enables critics to break out of the cycle of allegations of hypocrisy or inconsistency, and to grasp an emergent worldview that is both coherent and deeply troubling.
- Suzanne Schneider is deputy director and core faculty at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. She is the author of Mandatory Separation: Religion, Education, and Mass Politics in Palestine (2018) and The Apocalypse and the End of History: Modern Jihad and the Crisis of Liberalism (2021).
- The author’s contention is that – rather than being symptomatic of hypocrisy – the use of religion by irreligious authoritarian or populist leaders reflects a different understanding of the role of religion in the state.
- She points out that – for Christian Protestantism and liberalism generally – there’s a separation between religious belief, which is a private affair, and the State.
- I think she misunderstands the distinction between ‘faith’ and ‘works’ and the reason the distinction energised Luther (and Paul). What worried them was how to be ‘saved’ – to be reconciled to God with your sins forgiven. This couldn’t be gained by works, but is the free gift of God. They weren’t against ‘good works’ as a response to God’s faithfulness – far from it – but their thinking was coloured by the expectation that ‘the end times’ were upon us, and so there was no point trying to reform the State or the social structure (though Calvin – by setting up a theocracy in Geneva had other ideas, including denial of freedom of conscience). Nor did they treat ‘the faith’ as a private thing but as something to be proclaimed as ‘good news’ for all. They did – though – think that it should be a matter of sincere belief rather than formal conformity.
- Be this as it may, liberal Protestantism moved away from both parts of this understanding. ‘Faith’ – of whatever sort – was a matter of private conscience with no obvious constraint on the State.
- However, the nationalists and populists have co-opted religion as part of the national identity. You don’t have to believe any religious tenets to be ‘Christian’ in their view.
- The author – presumably herself Jewish – makes a parallel with Zionism and the modern State of Israel, where it’s racial Jewishness – having a Jewish mother – rather than religious belief that’s important. See Schneider - The Disturbing Alliance Between Zionists And Anti-Semites.
- Sub-Title: "Authoritarian leaders who play the religious card are not mere hypocrites. There’s something far more troubling going on"
- For the full text see Aeon: Schneider - An unholy alliance.
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