Back in November 2008 we saw the perfect storm for the religiously addicted I described in When Religion Is an Addiction. Their “Christian” president who was dealing their high of being right was ending his eight-year term.
He hadn’t dealt the ultimate fix they’d needed. The economic and military conservatives who took advantage of these needy religious conservatives had no interest in doing any more than using them to further their corporate take-over of America.
Yet, the 20% of Americans who make up the addicted could not dump their dealer. Even at the lowest in Bush’s approval, that number always kept believing, no matter what he really dealt them.
The 2008 elections were their hope for a stronger fix. Then the Republicans nominated John McCain – far from the religious right-wing’s champion.
In January 2007, fundamentalist kingpin James Dobson said: “Speaking as a private individual, I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances.”
“I am convinced Sen. McCain is not a conservative and, in fact, has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are,” Dobson emphasized in a statement read on Laura Ingraham’s nationally syndicated radio show a year later. “He has at times sounded more like a member of the other party.”
But their new savior arrived when McCain tapped Alaska governor, right-wing fundamentalist, Sarah Palin as his running mate. She was the one who would “energize the base,” that is, bring back their high. Thus, she would begin to threaten him.
No matter how ill-informed, no matter how wacky, they had to believe in her, just as they had in Bush. She was a “Christian” whom they could not believe would do them wrong.
Her election would be the living, emotional proof they were desperate for that there was a God who would vindicate them. She turned out the addicted in the way that McCain could never do.
What was riding on the 2008 presidential elections for them was so much more than the rest of us could imagine. It wasn’t just any election or a Republican win but the vindication of their own righteousness, of the truth of the cause they bet their lives on.
Believing fully by now that it was tied to government and political successes, rallies, political action, and election night victories were necessary to overcome their feelings of failure. Since Bush’s election, it was no longer sufficient for them to believe in the Divine – government had to ratify their righteousness.
The right-wing’s campaign against Barak Obama painted his election in apocalyptic terms. Though those outside the mindset couldn’t believe the rhetoric, for those inside, none of it was an exaggeration.
Those Republican operatives who knew better, needed the religiously addicted right-wing and so fanned the flames of the hell-fire predicted to come with a Democratic victory. The addicted had to be stoked to overcome possible letdown feelings of the Bush years.
Then the worst happened. Democratic control of the Congress and a President who, no matter who he was or what he did, was not them, succeeded before they could be raptured away from the tribulation. This triggered all the unhealed issues and fears they were trying to deny, from racism to sectarian religionism.
To the observer, it all looked crazy. And it was – the crazy reaction of the addict whose stash was threatened.
Liberals, including the new administration, felt that they could be addressed rationally, and that concrete proposals that would help the very people so reacting would provide evidence that would bring enlightenment to the addicted. It was an enabler’s fantasy.
Denial was rife. If we just reason, understand, be nice, accommodate, and compromise with the addicts, they’ll give up their search for a high and become clean and sober participants in our efforts.
The Republican Party knew how to take advantage of such liberal beliefs. Make Democrats compromise with us so that their accomplishments are watered down. Then don’t vote for the results so that the weakest bills won’t succeed publicly.
They also knew that the religious right-wing addicts saw the issues in black and white terms and so were loathe to stop them from doing so. Obama was other, and that meant evil.
Obama became the black face of all that was evil. Reid and Polosi were there too, but the demonic had manifest itself in Obama’s stimulus and “Obamacare.”
To the outsiders and enablers it got even crazier. To the corporate interests encouraging the “Tea Party” mobs, religious right-wingers and other authoritative personalities were useful to put Obama’s face on evil.
Addictions are progressive, remember. So, the old means of feeling righteous don’t work the way they did before.
So, it was necessary in order to keep the addiction in place to portray the President as the personification of everything evil. He had to be the devil, Hitler, a stereotype witch doctor, a Communist, a Socialist, a Fascist. Whatever was evil, his face was on it.
And the righteously indignant sought dealers from all over to run as Republicans. The old Republican leadership thought they could control it. But they, too, were not recognizing the depth of the addiction and were drug along to survive.
And here we are. Enablers still want to compromise with the addicts. They don’t want to do what it takes to intervene.
And the addicts get all the attention. They run the show while the clean and sober react.
But dealing with addicts is different than dealing with those who respond to rationality, compromise, and good will efforts.
It doesn’t mean being mean. It means taking a stand as a healthy, non-enabling human being.
There are compassionate ways to confront an addict and to prevent the addiction from damaging the rest of us further. That assumes we won’t remain in denial.
And there’s no space to discuss strategy here except to note that the last chapter of When Religion Is an Addiction, entitled “Toward an Intervention” is still relevant.
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.