By Bob Minor
Who’s actually setting the agenda for this election cycle so that even those who oppose them spend most of their time responding to their agenda and actions? It’s the authoritative personalities, the religiously addicted, and the politicians who court them.
Approximately 20-23% of Americans fit the definition of being authoritarians according to researchers who’ve studied these personalities since World War II. Authoritarians value obedience to authority as the most effective way to deal with their fears, can’t live with ambiguity, need clear structure and certainty, perceive threats all around them, and believe that domination of others is a way to control reality.
In addition, the overwhelming conclusion of 70 years of research is that authoritarians are consistently followers of right-wing, but not left-wing, ideology. Those who score highest on its authoritarian scale are by and large right-wing conservatives because authoritarian personalities are those who submit to “established authorities” - the psychologically affirming “proper,” “legitimate” leaders and institutions of what they consider the true establishment.
Authoritarians are intolerant of criticism of their authorities and show “general aggressiveness,” even harm, toward others when they believe it’s sanctioned by these authorities. They also have very compartmentalized minds that can keep them from reflecting on their activities.
They can, therefore, shed their guilt very efficiently, usually through claiming God’s forgiveness. And, thus, it’s not surprising that about this same percentage of Americans use religion as an addiction in the process – they’re religion addicts.
Notice, then, that when authoritative personalities and religion addiction are correlated, it’s easy to understand why right-wing Christians in this presidential election would support a serial divorcer, who knows how to use right-wing religion but clearly couldn’t care less about their Christianity or about the fate of right-wing religion itself beyond using them.
Whether their great presidential hopeful lies, is inconsistent, thoroughly illogical, or even fails, whether he just seems to be using them, doesn’t matter. All that can be justified in their minds because he promises the best chance of dealing the fix they need.
And there’s always a media pundit they can cling to who will explain all this in the manner they need to hear.
Religion addicts have as their goal the “high of righteousness.” In the midst of personal lives and a culture that seem to be failing them, they need to feel that they are God-approved, no matter what.
It’s not about any of the other things we consider are or should be crucial to right-wingers – fidelity to correct beliefs down to minutia, truth-telling, evidence of having been “born again,” showing the “works” of faith in charity and justice. It’s about dealing a drug that will, they hope, counter their insecurities and feelings of damnable sinfulness, thereby countering what right-wing religion affirms about everyone, which amounts to the lowest of low self-esteem.
They want to feel good about themselves and their religious commitments. In all, it’s actually about a lack of faith in all that they claim and often work hard to convince themselves and others that they believe.
Are they sincere? Unquestionably. They are thoroughly psychologically attached to what they believe no matter how inconsistent or hypocritical it might all seem to others.
These people claim to have strong consciences, especially when they compare themselves to others, but empirical studies show they’re not as good or principled as they believe they are. In fact, they have little self-understanding and don’t realize how much more prejudiced and hostile they are than others.
And like the addict in the family who controls family dynamics while hurting all those around them, they don’t identify with the hurts they leave behind in their search for the fix. Instead, they have all sorts of ways to justify why others are suffering from the addict’s addiction.
None of this makes a pretty picture. We’d like to believe better.
Enablers, often nice, bleeding-heart liberals, want to soften the reality of it. They make excuses and believe, like the victims of abusive spouses, that somehow they themselves can correct, change, or take responsiblity for the addict’s addiction.
Responses that enable addicts might work to change the non-addicted, the non-authoritative personalities, but in this 20% that dominates the fight against progressive reform, ending discrimination, and economic justice, what changes things is more like an intervention. The media won’t do it, but we must.
A recent lengthy article in Salon, “The Rise of Irreligion Is the GOP’s Real Demographic Crisis,” (August 20, 2016) places the polls of a rapidly rising group of religious “nones” and the “spiritual but not religious” in the current political landscape where the Republican Party continues to court religion addicts who seek their righteous high through political user activities addicts hope will lead to vindication.
The surveys the author cites show that the influence of addictive religion is shrinking. People seem to be finding other addictions instead.
This, of course, has real meaning for the Republican Party, the author points out. Its decades long ploy to take advantage of the insecurities and neediness of religion addicts for a more intense high of righteousness through salvation by political victories that would bring government approval is failing at the presidential level.
Their last hopes for political justification linger in the down-ballot races. And given the fact that they turn out in higher voting percentages than liberals, they can still feel righteous through them.
It’s also no surprise, then, that the political and religious right-wing are fighting to remake any institutions that are most likely to challenge dogmatism and addictive faith. They’re together in turning the last bastions of interventions, our universities, into propaganda machines, scaring professors into curtailing critical thinking, and turning public schools into money-making class-based enterprises under the guise of a “reform” that will never counteract the underfunding these same politicians have promoted.
Authoritative personalities are easy to manipulate. Those who intervene with a resounding, persistent, and decisive “No” against all that would exploit these personalities and addictive religion are their biggest threat.
Some people change through education and discussion, but the religiously addicted require unflinching pushback to prevent them from both self-abuse and their even further harming of everyone else.
Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human; and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org
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