Onward, Christian Cowboys

Matt Hanson in The Baffler:

THE LATE, GREAT COMEDIAN Bill Hicks liked to tell a story about how audiences responded to his brand of scathing, gleefully subversive comedy, which he once referred to as “Chomsky with dick jokes.” Hicks’s relentless skewering of American materialism, jingoism, and religious hypocrisy didn’t exactly endear him to the mainstream. An appearance on the Letterman show was infamously cut—it was taped, but not aired—for containing jokes about pro-lifers, who were among the show’s sponsors. After a set in Tennessee, the story goes, a couple of locals confronted the Texas-born comic and declared that they were Christians and they didn’t like his act. Without missing a beat, Hicks responded with “well then, forgive me.” Instead, they broke his arm.

You might think reacting in such a spirit of vengeance is pretty much the exact opposite of how any self-professed Christian is supposed to behave. Yet there were deeper and more distinctly American pathologies at work: the guys who supposedly beat up Hicks were responding politically, not theologically. It wasn’t an attempt to defend Jesus’ honor or the tenets of whatever church they might have belonged to—it was to show that little punk who was really boss. They probably didn’t even notice the irony; and why would they? They may have grown up in an evangelical culture, but that culture glorifies what we now refer to as toxic masculinity. This “muscular Christianity” encourages both aggression and victimhood, emboldening believers, especially men, to impose their collective will on the rest of the public whenever they suddenly feel empowered or aggrieved.

In Jesus & John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted A Faith and Fractured a Nation the historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez explores this moral schizophrenia. We know there are legions of people on the religious right who talk a good game about following Christ but end up voting overwhelmingly for venal, crass, blustering wannabe tough guys like the current president and his enablers in Congress. But much of the evangelical leadership is this way, too. It often consists of self-appointed alpha male types who write bestselling books with imposing titles like Dare to Discipline, and Never Surrender, and You: The Warrior Leader, and Why We [meaning Muslims, of course] Want to Kill You. A writer for the Christian Broadcasting Network even teamed up with a Baptist minister a couple of years ago to produce The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography. While trying to mimic the terse, stoic cowboy ideal of manhood nicked from old Western movies, these opportunistic showboats often end up sounding and acting a lot more like Tom Cruise’s Frank T.J. Mackie in Magnolia, the brash misogynist who gives conferences about how to seduce and destroy women and who turns out to be a basket case of Oedipal rage and self-loathing.

The use of John Wayne as an evangelical role model implicitly suggests how some people’s religious beliefs are akin to identifying with their favorite movie stars.

More here.