The Christian Right: Opportunistic Exploitation of Human Needs | The Sociology of Religion

By: Anthony Renda

Part 1, Question:

Pick one of the two textbooks and write a 1600-word summary of the ways in which either the Christian Right or the New Age movement represents opportunistic exploitation of fundamental human needs.

Part 1, Answer:

The Christian Right is a conglomerate of socially conservative religious groups originating primarily in the United States. In the last few decades they have emerged as a new global influence, blurring the lines which traditionally separate church and state while wielding extensive political influence and lobbying power both in the United States as well as internationally. In order to glimpse the power of the Right, one needs look no further than the Evangelicals. As American Evangelical Pastor Ted Haggard says, “If Evangelicals vote, they determine the election” (Jesus camp, 2006). Indeed, he is correct. In the 2004 American Presidential Election, victor George W. Bush received 78% of the Evangelical vote (Lift every voice, 2012), who account for approximately 26% of American adults (Church Statistics and Religious Affiliations, 2013). Additionally, Catholicism is beginning to amalgamate with the Right (Schweber, 2012) as they support a similar conservative sociopolitical agenda. The Catholic Church makes up an additional 24% of American voters, who also provided majority support of Bush in 2004 (Religion and the Presidential Vote, 2004). Although the Presidential campaigns of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 favored the left-leaning candidate, the Bush-Kerry election of 2004 showed that the Right has the potential to control nearly half of the electorate, which provides a glimpse of the kind of influence they control when organized domestically. Internationally, the Right began to globalize in order to combat secularization in a modern world. Promotion of conservativism and fundamentalist values has caused a rapid expansion of Christianity worldwide. By 2050 it is estimated that there will be 3 billion Christians worldwide, or three Christians for every two Muslims (Butler, 2006). The global agenda of the Right is concerned with conservative values such as the breadth of religious freedom, reproductive rights, anti-feminism and limitation of civil liberties (Butler, 2006). Incidentally, the leaders of the Right are also affiliated with massive industry which expands as their religious influence does. For instance, a key element of the recent Iraq-American war has been expansion of the Christian Right into the Middle East (Digby Parton, 2014), and conservative-affiliated oil giant Halliburton is speculated to have generated $39.5 billion off the conflict (Young, 2013), with previous CEO Dick Cheney, a Methodist, being a key proponent of America’s military role.

However, the issue remains: is the agenda pushed by the Right occurring at the expense of fundamental human needs? Have these religions forsaken spirituality in favor of corrupt opportunism? Are they eager to disseminate their global authority, despite a deep exploitation of basic human needs? As the Right pushes further outward, it becomes imperative to examine humans and their needs in a global sense in order to investigate the effect of the Right, transcending culture, race, sexuality and other extraneous variables. Humans need to preserve the environment: to eat and shelter with dignity. From the most advanced civilization to the most isolated tribe, humans also share a need to feel safe in their own society and culture. The combination of opportunistic exploitation of the environment as well as the need for safety will ultimately reveal how the Right has preserved their power and influence by exploiting perhaps our most fundamental human need – that of answers to the big questions regarding our mortality and place in the universe.

The problem with dwindling resources on this planet is hardly due to one specific factor. However, the Right does seem to possess a particularly contemptuous view of environmental issues that may be incompatible with their political ambitions. Ted Haggard clearly states that the Bible is to be interpreted in a largely literal sense, saying “We’ve decided the Bible is the word of God. We don’t have to have a General Assembly about what we believe. It’s written in the Bible” (Jesus camp, 2006). However, Leviticus 25:23 states that “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers”, implying that our natural resources belong to God and should be preserved and/or renewed. Indeed, the Bible is rife with direct contradictions, but the Right is clearly taking the opportunity to only choose passages in accordance with their political motives. With regards to the environment, the Right has a direct affect on how our limited resources are (over)used. They have become affiliated with the Wise Use Movement, a group which promotes unfettered resource use under the guise of conservation. Wise Use has also begun to align its goals with Christian interests in order to garner the support of the massive proportion of the voting public which side with the Christian Right (Hendricks, 2006). Additionally, Dallas based oil company Zion Oil & Gas and their Evangelical CEO, John Brown, have invoked the bible to support oil drilling in Israel, saying that they and their 30,000 investors are on a mission from God to generate a profit and help the Holy Land (Burnett, 2013).

In a more indirect manner, the Right is a vehement denier of climate change, an unfortunate sentiment which perpetuates irresponsible use of resources and inadequate care of the environment. Power hungry conservatives of the Christian Right have utilized an effective propaganda campaign which has affiliated scientific research with Atheism and other anti-religious sentiment, causing many to distrust science and its conclusions. Conveniently, this helps perpetuate the business ventures of these Right-affiliated companies. Evangelical environmentalist Katherine Heyhoe outlines a number of reasons why the conservative Christian Right and conservation should not be at odds (Mooney, 2014). She notes that there are market-friendly solutions to climate change in line with conservativism, such as wind power which is flourishing in right-wing Texas. With regards to Christian canon, she notes that the Apostle Paul condemned apathetic Christians merely waiting for end-times, saying that people should continue to care for their fellow humans, including future generations. Clearly, the Christian Right could easily support environmental sustainability. However, politicians affiliated with the Right, such as Senator James Inhofe, attack both those arguments using religious rhetoric which conveniently preserves the status quo – profit driven exploitation of the environment at the hands of right-wing special interest groups. Inhofe says that, “God’s still up there, and the arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what he is doing in the climate, is to me, outrageous.” (Mooney, 2014). That line of thinking presents an easy opportunity to flaunt religious belief in justification of continued use of natural resources, even in the face of looming environmental catastrophe.

By merging right-wing interests with Wise Use goals, the Christian Right has generated massive profit while providing a substantial voter-base to a group which pillages the environment in direct contradiction of the rational conservation promoted in Leviticus. Likewise, thin religious sentiment provides opportunistic justification for climate change denial and perpetuation of current environmental standards which benefits primarily right-wing interests. The Right has seized these opportunities with complete disregard for sustainability of the human need to merely survive on this planet.

The Right has frequently and seemingly without conscience exploited the basic human need for personal safety and cultural independence, both domestically and across the globe. Less than one week following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, President George W. Bush invoked an unsettling memory of the past when addressing the United States’ impending response to global terrorism, saying “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while” (Ford, 2001). The word crusade conjures up memories of the medieval crusades; near-genocidal military campaigns carried out by the Catholic Church as they intended to expand their borders and sphere of influence (Davies, 1997). Waving the flag of righteousness, Catholicism opportunistically and brutally exploited foreign peoples for their own selfish gains, a trend that continues in the present day. As a conservative Methodist-Christian (Cooperman, 2004), Bush made it very clear that the war on terror carried strong religious overtones when he called it a crusade. The Right has a deep interest in American foreign affairs, hoping to spread their faith and thus consolidate their power and influence, eerily echoing the violent tragedy of the medieval Crusades. As mentioned above, the Right has hijacked much of the American electorate, and hiding behind a veil of thin religious rationale they have sent their army into foreign lands on a quest for cultural assimilation, profit and power. The rhetoric has been appropriated over the years to fit whichever new foe has arisen, and while Jesus preached compassion, the Right is quick to overlook this if it impedes their progress. Anne Coulter, American conservative-Christian political commentator, responded in 2001 to the 9/11 attacks that, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity!” (Digby Parton, 2014). The focus has since shifted more towards the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), although the goal of maintaining Christian-American influence in the Muslim-dominated Middle East remains constant. Indeed, the crimes of ISIS are numerous and extreme, but bringing them to justice seems a backburner goal to pushing the influence of the Right into Islamic territory, regardless of how these crusades affect the innocent civilians. Texas Senator Ted Cruz easily interchanged ‘Christian’ and ‘American’ in September, 2014, saying that,

“It’s not our job to be social workers in Iraq and put them all on expanded Medicaid. It is our job to kill terrorists who have declared war on America and who have demonstrated the intention and capability to murder innocent Americans…ISIS right now is the face of evil. They are crucifying Christians, they are persecuting Christians” (Jones, 2014).

Senator Cruz, a Southern Baptist (Texan of the Year, 2012), demonstrates the Right’s willingness to absorb the collateral damage and retaliation, showing how expendable human life becomes when it infringes on an opportunity to expand their authority. Likewise, it is not just foreign bystanders who are deprived of their need for safety and cultural liberty. The fear mongering required domestically to encourage these campaigns occurs at the expense of the conscience of American civilians, who continually bow to the infringements of a police-state on their privacy and civil rights.

Since the dawn of civilization humans have questioned our origins, the notion of death and our significance as a species. Religion arose to answer to those big questions, but has slowly decayed over time into a corrupt, politically driven entity which is less concerned with providing hope and solace for its followers than expanding and solidifying its own global influence. At a domestic level, the Christian Right manipulates its own parishioners; by parading environmentalism as Atheistic it preys on their need of an answer to the question of an afterlife, while simultaneously acquiring more support for their own profit driven interests. Our significance as a species in the universe is a daunting thought, but as Western religion is pushed by the Right as the one true faith, it allows them to garner support for their global crusade to annihilate the culture, and if need be, the people of foreign nations who impede them. Again they exploit their own parishioners’ need for an answer regarding their place in the universe in order to consolidate their power. Outside its borders, non-Christians suffer most as their culture is bulldozed by the Right and their own need of answers to the big questions are ignored as they are set upon by greed and opportunism. As a global species humans need to survive on this planet, safely and within their own culture: fundamental needs which are continually exploited by the Christian Right as they opportunistically grind forward, disregarding humanities search for answers in their relentless quest for profit and power.


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