Steve and Milo’s alt-right great adventure: the rise of “Churchiness” makes the sacred profane…
The alt-right’s rage against institutions and lawful authority has gone far beyond political infighting. Reactionaries have co-opted the Republican party and partnered with religious extremists who now serve as cover for their anti-Christian drift towards fascism. Protestant evangelicals have joined with radical Catholics to preach the gospel of intolerance as they willfully ignore the bigots, racists, and repugnant fellow travelers who have found a home in their midst. Religion, in general, has always provided a useful safe harbor for con artists and pretenders but, now, religion has itself fallen victim to its own inability to sanction extremist interpretations of its teachings. The battle is always rooted in whether the “word of God” in whatever Testament, Bible, Koran, or ancient-text-of-choice should be taken literally enough to justify an evil cause. Literal readings of biblical lines sometimes substitute ungodlike phraseology for wisdom:
- Ecclesiastes 1:18. “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”
- Deuteronomy 23:1. “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.”
Biblical literalists, like Constitutional originalists, sometimes are forced to defend the indefensibly silly.
The concept of infallibility often attached to religious leaders and church dogma is hardly sustainable in a world that is probing and curious. Now, Pope Francis has become a victim of a movement I will call “churchiness, with a nod to Stephen Colbert. The comic’s rather brilliant use of satire and reductio ad absurdum arguments was an effective foil to peel away the dishonesty and hubris of the Bush II era. In a recent Mother Jones article, written by Kathryn Joyce, the author tells the story of alt-right apostate Milo Yiannopoulos joining with his old friend Steve Bannon to call out the Catholic Church and its bishops for sins not unlike those he has been accused of:
In 2015, the right-wing, gay, British provocateur gained notoriety as one of the chief devotees of the then-fledgling alt-right, using billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer’s money and Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News platform to recast the white nationalist movement as edgy rebellion. Book deals, magazine profiles, and speaking gigs rolled in until comments he’d made minimizing child sexual abuse-defending sexual encounters between adolescents and adults as “enriching” rather than abusive-were publicized. That proved too much even for Milo fans who’d reveled in his offensiveness, and in 2017, he was drummed out of the ascendant far right.
— — Bannon, Milo, and Other Right-Wing Activists Are Hellbent on Transforming the Catholic Church, in Mother Jones, by Kathryn Joyce
Milo has since resurrected himself and rejoined Bannon as an “ex-gay” who proclaimed without shame that he,
…theatrically threw away an engagement ring he called his “sodomy stone” and quipped about the need to “make the Vatican straight again” and “make America homophobic again.”
— Kathryn Joyce, in Mother Jones
— -a sort of MAHA moment that never made the cut or found its way onto a hoodie or ball cap!
The very real issues that exist within the Catholic Church, and faults that some might have with its liberal Argentine Jesuit leader do not excuse or support the intolerance of folks like Milo and Bannon. This is simply another example of the attack on reason and the desertion of institutions which we count on to maintain civility and order The rejection of authority, in general, is the basis of an illogical and perplexing pattern. The evangelical movement is one that has replaced fervor with fanaticism, godliness with idolatry. In this case, Yiannopoulos and Bannon have commingled reactionary forms of religion and politics to create a reimagined formula for old-fashioned fascism.
The conflation of religion and political extremism is a natural fit because both require adherents to set aside reality and worldliness for uncompromising otherworldly belief systems. In Joyce’s article, it is apparent that the Catholic faith was made vulnerable by the uncovering of sexual improprieties of some of its priests. The fact that perversions exist within even our most trusted institutions is a recognition that they are all populated by humans and not saints. Those who traffic in the misery and doubt that harm the otherwise positive mission of most social institutions forget that a healthy dose of skepticism is our first defense against rash judgment and naivete. In this case, Bannon’s extremism argument for the destruction of institutions as a way of purifying them is simply nihilism dressed as righteousness. Yiannopoulos, once accused of advocating for pedophilia, and Bannon, indicted for federal crimes and granted a last-minute pardon by Trump, hardly come to this place with clean hands.
The “churchiness” of those like Bannon and Yiannopoulos who would oppose abortion rights but deny voting rights; who would extol “family values” but advocate family separation policies at the border; who praise the orderliness and strong rule of despots, but attack the careful deliberations of democracies — prey on the fear of its adherents. They prefer the comfort of believing to the inconvenience of knowing. The appropriation of religion is just one more example of their own irrational aversion to reality. Their corruption of the truth has long removed them from any claim to a moral high ground. A world devoid of the likes of Steve and Milo would be preferable to any world devised by them.