Until recently, 2011 had been a quiet year for the Christian right. Adopting the successful Tea Party blueprint, the first wave of 2012 presidential hopefuls – including the candidates whose Christian cred was central to their political rise – distanced themselves from divisive social issues in favor of popular anti-government themes.
But just as religious rhetoric appeared to be receding from the political landscape, in August three-term Texas Gov. Rick Perry threw his hat in the presidential ring with a blend of politics and religion he dubbed “The Response.” Perry is the first candidate to arrange a marriage of convenience between the libertarian Tea Party and the Christian right – a pairing that propelled him to the head of the Republican pack, although his front-runner status has since been claimed by both Mitt Romney and Herman Cain.
But Perry’s Christian right bona fides are open to question. While he recently jumped on board with the latest Republican “pledges” to curtail abortion and gay marriage, he only did so after pressure to back down from his absolute defense of state sovereignty.
The self-interest and individualism that permeate the libertarian philosophy are not easily reconcilable with Christian teachings. Many Tea Partiers take pride in “going Galt,” inspired by the hero of Atlas Shrugged, John Galt, who declared, “I swear by my life and my love that I will never live for the sake of another man” – a clear refutation of Jesus’ directive, “Sell all your possessions and give to the poor.”
So how has Perry garnered large-scale support of the religious right? The answer has to do with a concept known as “biblical capitalism.” Biblical capitalism reinterprets the Christian holy book to make the case that libertarian fiscal policy is divinely inspired. Proponents argue that Jesus and the Bible oppose progressive taxes, minimum wage laws, social welfare policies, collective bargaining rights and environmental regulation.
Although the sanctification of laissez-faire economics dates back to the early 1900s, the movement has been revitalized by the Tea Party’s latest pseudo-historian, David Barton. Barton’s 1989 book, The Myth of Separation, which claims that the Founding Fathers never meant to keep church and state distinct, was so thoroughly debunked by scholars that it had to be rewritten and reissued in 1996 as Original Intent. That Perry’s calls for his followers to pray for economic deregulation have been met with applause and not confusion suggests that the message has found its target audience.
Biblical capitalism allows Perry and the Tea Party to imply – without having to delve into the philosophical incongruities – that fiscal and social conservatism necessarily intertwine. Biblical capitalism provides a powerful twist to the right’s faux-populist narratives – the hybrid-driving, college-educated liberal “elites” are no longer just political opponents; they’re enemies of God’s order.
But in exchange for defying these “elites” by casting a Tea Party vote in their spiritual self-interest, hard-line social conservatives receive an economic order from a financial elite that opposes their earthly self-interest – an order in which the richest 400 Americans hold more wealth than the poorest 50 percent of the population combined.
Perry has clearly articulated his vision for America through his legislative record as Texas governor. He has stuck to his small-government guns for a decade now and, predictably, constructed a state of both extreme wealth and desperate poverty – a corporate Candyland complete with low tax rates, toothless regulatory policies, nonexistent labor protections, an eroding system of public education and the highest percentage of residents without health insurance in the union.
This vast socioeconomic disparity reflects the worldview embraced by the Koch brothers and Tea Party leaders – that we exist as self-interested individuals competing for limited resources without concern for the well-being of others. Their ideology and its desired end-game scenario are clear. But any spiritually and intellectually honest Christians who pretend that this philosophy fits next to the teachings of Jesus are in need of some soul-searching. They might begin by asking, “When Jesus felt the weight of the world upon his shoulders, was his response to ‘shrug’?”
This article was updated the web.