Patriarchy and Politics: One Nation Under God?

I have been contemplating this post for nearly a week. There are so many connections between patriarchy and politics in every country. For instance, I could easily draw attention to the extreme patriarchy that exists in South African politics with a polygamist president who has many wives and girlfriends – but I think I will leave that for my next post. Today, what I want to focus on is patriarchy and politics in America and the way in which these two are directly related to religion. It is in triangulating patriarchy, politics and religion that we are able to truly examine the existence and continuation of a very sexist nation.

This patriarchal ideal is premised upon a seemingly schitzophrenic God within Christianity, a God of love and the jealous God who represents the collective power of HIS chosen people. And as historian Arnold Toynbee highlights, this perpetuates a double standard of behavior, ie: right-wing politicians can state that they are Christian,and advocate for war, be against abortion, and slanderously speak against their political counterparts – all in the name of God. America’s “civil religion” is highlighted further in the presidential inauguration every four years which involves the religious legitimization of the highest political authority in America. The main assumption that comes from this blessing from a religious leader is that God is an American and the president is his anointed one. Preachers for White House sermons (and certainly beyond the White House doors in churches across the nation) stress that the nation is “under God” and therefore the logical conclusion is that its policies are right, and the President becomes a Christ figure.

Last week I was listening to a radio station in South Africa on my way into work and they played a clip from the American political commentator, Bill Maher. On his show they had a short report in Mississippi from locals and their political approach – yes it is extreme, but it also shows the seriously misconstrued ideas of what politics and government should be about.

It seems from this that God is behind the right Christian candidate, and the reason why many people choose their candidate.

And now for my confession… I used to be one of these people (I still have my teeth though). I knew that my family was Republican, I thought that if you were Christian that this was the “right” party to vote for, and that was that. I never analyzed the candidates and I voted mainly because I “liked their personality” – I voted Republican because that was what my religion did. It’s a crying shame and terribly embarrassing. I was not taught to be a free thinker – and I was not taught to question the existence of the American government and what it should offer it’s people. I voted emotionally.

Please let me be clear, I am not going to say voting Republican is wrong. But once I developed an analytical mind – which sadly only really developed after leaving America to live in South Africa and Europe – I was able to question the very roots of what I believed and why I believed that Republican = Christian = God’s choice.

I was not aware of why government even functioned until I began looking and studying other democracy’s. I began to understand the importance of government that goes beyond arguing about abortion and putting legal parameters on morality issues – the important issues for me began to be around health care provision, education, functioning infrastructures, regulation of financial institutions, and very importantly social protection – ensuring a safety net for those that are impoverished and cannot get out of the poverty cycle on their own (side note but by supporting social protection structures this then empowers individuals to more actively participate in the economy). It is not in creating a welfare-dependency but offering everyone the chance to participate in the economy and society. The majority of the poor in America are “working poor” (and these are mostly single-headed households of mom’s trying to make ends meet). The very sad thing that the Republican party has done is turn social protection into the word “socialist” and health care reform into a fear campaign that makes average Americans think that their money will be used to support lazy people. This is absolutely false.

The point is that these issues – especially taking care of the poor – are actually exactly what Christians should be concerned about. Yet somehow emotionally charged politicians have spun Christianity, Republican, and anti-poor, pro-war into one disgusting mess and perpetuated patriarchy while the top political men tell women how to control their bodies and meanwhile approve funding for war and weapons. If I remember correctly from my Sunday School lessons, Jesus spent most of his time with the poor, healing the sick, spending unusual amounts of time with women and even healing their menstrual issues (excellent article on Jesus and the bleeding woman), oh yah and promoting peace and love – sounds like someone many Americans would have a hard time voting for  today (he could be considered a socialist)! And side rant, but if abortion is such an important Republican/Christian issue that finds it’s footing on “not murdering” then capital punishment and war should be just as much advocated against. This just doesn’t seem to add up for me.

The issue here is that religion plays a very, very manipulative role in American politics. And if religion is so powerful, and Christianity is based upon a hierarchal/patriarchal God, then as Mary Daly suggests this “God-Father” allows for cruelty to those that do not align themselves to the “right” way of thinking.

The image of the divine Father in heaven has not always been conducive to human behavior, as any perceptive reader of history knows. The often cruel behavior of Christians toward unbelievers and toward dissenters among themselves suggests a great deal not only about the values of the society dominated by that image, but also about how that image itself functions in relation to behavior.

According to this then, the recent decisions being made in government around birth control, abortion, and even healthcare puts God right where He should be – at the top of the triangle supported by Politics and Patriarchy.

I will leave you with this thought expressed best by Nixon’s speech writer Ray Price (cited in Henderson, The Nixon Theology): “Selection of a President has to be an act of faith… This faith isn’t achieved by reason: it’s achieved by charisma, by a feeling of trust…[the campaign is only effective] if we can get people to make the emotional leap, or what theologians call ‘leap of faith.'”

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