Oh ye of little faith


The Christian right’s strange worship of big government

by Robert Mann

Bible_VotesThere’s a doctrine that many religious conservatives have embraced for decades, perhaps best articulated by their political saint, Ronald Reagan: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Reagan’s words from his first inaugural in 1981 inspired more than three decades of small-government activism. The idea, in its simplest form, is that reducing the size and scope government – such as slashing taxes on the rich and cutting assistance for the poor – will prompt freedom and prosperity to bloom like azaleas in April. Conservatives also fondly quote an aphorism attributed to Henry David Thoreau, “The best government is that which governs least.”

We have the power!

But here’s the secret some religious conservatives hope you won’t learn: Big-brother government has become their new political faith and the enforcer of their religious beliefs, especially regarding personal, usually private, behavior.

Once, they regarded big government as the problem. Now, they demand massive government enforcement of their religious views on issues like abortion, creationism, prayer in public schools and gay rights.

Could it be that this newfound trust in government regulation of private behavior and beliefs actually reveals a crisis of faith among the religious right?


Religious conservatives may ask God to transform the nation’s heart on questions like abortion and homosexuality, but they behave as if he is unequal to the task. Their God seems diminished or distracted and their unwitting doubt in his power has propelled them from their chapels into the cathedrals of government.

Simply put, for decades the religious right has pursued a failed strategy to change hearts and minds by outsourcing its persuasive powers to government. Not content with mere sermons and prayers on issues of personal morality or fundamentalist teachings like evolution, they’ve demanded government intervention to enforce the Bible as they read it. Like the prohibitionists of the 1920s, they worked to seize the levers of government with a desire to exert its coercive power.

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