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The modern Republican Party's plight can be compared, I think, to the experience of American Protestantism in the last half of the 19th century. I'll explain in a minute.
Today, many moderates, Democrats, Independents, as well as liberals, have difficulty comprehending what looks like an obvious and ongoing denial of reality by the modern Republican Party. The creation of faux-narratives about virtually any event by movement conservatives, and the insistence that those faux-narratives actually define truth, a kind of twisted political post-modernism, has been the leading source of frustration for those who insist on empirical and scientific data.
This dynamic has led to even more division in the country where namecalling, mockery, and demonizing the other side has, so far, prevailed. The Reverend confesses that he has participated in this dynamic, often with vigor.
That being said.....The Renaissance, from the 14th through the 17th centuries, with it's emphasis on a humanist method of study rather than a spiritual one, presented challenges for religion. The Enlightenment period of history in the 18th century carried this challenge to religion even further with it's focus on reason, rather than faith, as the basis for establishing truth. Our American Founding Fathers, it can be said, were motivated by Enlightenment principles. The Industrial Revolution was a welcome byproduct of these two preceding "ages."
Although organized Christianity had what were called "Great Awakening" periods throughout these previously mentioned "ages", periods in which religious thinking experienced reform and change.....it is also true that many fringe Christian groups also came into existence during this time.
The Jehovah's Witnesses group was founded in the late 19th century in America. So too, the Seventh-Day Adventists and Christian Scientists. The Latter Day Saints (Mormons) sprouted during the early 19th century.
My purpose here is not to disparage any particular denomination or sect of Christianity, or any adherents to the dogma those denominations set forth. My point is that when traditional religious systems are challenged by science, education in general, and secular reasoning.....adherents to the "old way" often respond to those challenges with their own "new" interpretations.
Rather than considering or embracing new, emerging scientific and rational explanations for reality, made possible by Renaissance and Enlightenment progress, the aforementioned sects resorted to their own newfangled, and often bizarre, interpretations of reality.
Which sets up a segway to the Republican Party in America today.
I don't think there is any question, especially in light of the last 10-15 years, that modern Republican doctrine is experiencing serious challenges. While the traditional conservative values of self-determination and financial responsibility will always maintain their rightful place in our political discourse......recent conservative "values" are being rejected by mainstream Americans as misguided, contradictory, hypocritical, or in some cases, like the new Christian cults of the 19th century, radical and even bizarre.
The Republican Party's deal with the devil in hitching it's wagon to modern evangelical Christianity has given birth to today's active denial, or censoring, of scientific evidence. This odd-bedfellows combination produced the bizarre frenzy of GOP politicians and religious "right to lifers" that America witnessed in the Terri Schiavo ordeal. Newt Gingrich, in his most recent speech, said that college professors and high school teachers needed "removed." Modern conservatives want college professors actively "challenged", "alternative" religion-based concepts offered up equally with science-based ones, "secularists removed."
The GOP's embrace of discrimination in the gay rights issue, using as it's basis, "traditional moral values", or "defense of traditional marriage" is belied by a steady parade of Republican politicians (Gingrich, Livingston, Foley, Craig, Giuliani, Ensign) acting immorally and destructively in their own marriages. Pragmatic immigration reform has often been replaced with hateful screeds directed towards Hispanics, a stiff-necked approach to realism, a demonization of those who are considered in favor of "amnesty", a senseless and warped attack on a highly qualified Supreme Court nominee.
The recent blowup in the financial world, a direct result of the conservative doctrine of deregulation which relies on almost divine powers of an alleged "free market, combined with an almost crazed focus on tax cutting and benefit-giving to the most wealthy, has left conservatives reeling.....yet there is no admission by Republicans that their traditional doctrines have proven to be a total failure.
A political party once proud of their allegiance to liberty, freedom, and the rule of law....has now morphed into a party defending just the opposite. Torture, gulags, the denial of rights, the retraction of American freedoms, the promotion of lawlessness, the justification of government secrecy, pre-emptive wars, unaccountability.....are all now defended by the Republican Party.
In other words.....in the face of modern challenges to what conservatives have traditionally believed in......the Republican Party has responded with self-radicalization, a response so extreme and radical that facts and empirical evidence are now replaced daily with the most bizarre narratives imaginable. Moderate conservatives who insist on pragmatism and scientific fact are purged and demonized much like any religious cult would do.
If you are like me, and think that the Republican Party has gotten even more extreme over the last 6 months, to the point of bizarro....I suggest that the reason is that the GOP is afraid of the modern challenges which they have no answer for. The GOP either has no rational alternatives to offer to the voters who have rejected them or those new ideas can't be offered for fear they will be an acknowledgment of past errors. The GOP has been in the process of establishing a new political cult, cocooning itself as it were, in self-defense mode against a changing world it's members cannot face up to.