Does New House Speaker Mike Johnson Represent The Rise Of American Theocracy?

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What does it mean to US democracy that Mike Johnson is Speaker of the House, third in line of succession to be President of the United States of America?

Johnson is a fervent believer in the literal truth of the bible. He is emblematic of this mystical shift. In an interview with Ken Ham, founder of Creation Park, Johnson claimed, “The Ark Encounter [a Noah’s Ark simulation] is one way to bring people to this recognition of the truth, that what we read in the Bible are actual historical events.”

Johnson believes that dinosaurs roamed the Garden of Eden only six thousand years ago. Of course, he would believe Trump won the last presidential election.

Secular Humanism and American democracy were born in the Enlightenment of the 17th century, the Age of Reason. The Enlightenment fundamentally changed our perceptions of the natural world and morality. Before the Age of Reason, western understanding of both reflected the Christian world view. 

With the Enlightenment came the realization that human reasoning provided a better understanding of nature. The biblical notion of stationary earth and planetary motion controlled by supernatural forces was no match for the rational explanation given by Isaac Newton’s laws of motion and theory of gravity. 

It was also realized that Christian morality led to unjust and irrational outcomes. Colonists who defied religious norms had been persecuted. Mary Dyer was hung for refusing to deny her Quaker faith. And in Europe, the Christian church mercilessly tortured and executed countless innocents for heresy.

Over the next 250 years, America, along with other Western liberal democracies, developed better codes of morality and justice. They gradually created egalitarian and pluralistic societies, and they brought our understanding of the natural world to a level that was unimaginable.

Why then are so many Americans attracted to religion and autocratic leadership? 

This modern world is astonishingly complex, and changes at an alarming rate. Few people are able to keep pace. Bewildered, frightened, and left behind, many long for simpler times and plain answers. Old-time religion provides solace and an escape from our present-day reality. Still, it is ironic that so many seek this mystical world when our forebears embraced the rational thinking of the Enlightenment. 

Our Speaker falsely and bizarrely claims that teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is the cause of mass shootings. He thinks that understanding nature devalues human life. Blind to reality, Johnson will work to promote teaching creationism rather than actually addressing the slaughter in our schools. 

Contrary to these extreme views, figures like Elizabeth Johnson (no relation to Mike Johnson), a Catholic nun, show that evolution and Christian belief can coexist, as she has in, “Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love.”

Yet Mike Johnson, along with ninety million other Christian evangelicals, choose a fantasy world with a fictitious history where Noah saved every living species from the great flood and Jonah lived inside a whale. In America that is his prerogative, but we all live in the real world and need clear thinking realists to lead it. Mike Johnson is not that. But the greater problem is the mindset of the people who put him in power.

The misconception that the United States was founded as a “Christian Nation” proclaimed by Johnson and other Christian Nationalists contradicts the secular nature of our Constitution. They seek to align laws with their beliefs, and for Johnson, who has sworn to defend the Constitution, that creates a dilemma, which, short of his resignation, cannot be reconciled.

The extreme views of Evangelicals on key issues such as women’s rights, especially a woman’s right to choose, are very unpopular. Still, they double-down, confident that they are doing god’s work. 

Democracy thwarts their ambitions, and so they work to undermine the will of the majority. They want autocracy, a strongman in charge with power to impose their oppressive morality on everyone. Their current choice is no modern-day Jesus-like man of love and peace. It’s an angry, womanizing grifter who faces 91 federal and state felony charges, and thinks the constitution can be terminated, Donald Trump.

Johnson has support. Critics claim that autocratic government is more stable than democratic. But American democracy has thrived for more than 250 years, while authoritarian regimes like Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy rose and crumbled.

Critics also claim that because democracies require debate and compromise, autocracies are nimbler and more responsive. That may be true, but more is not better. Autocratic leaders are inclined to rash and ill-conceived decisions. Look at how the relative peace and prosperity of the Russian people was upended by Vladimir Putin’s impulsive and reckless attack on Ukraine. 

Comparisons of quality of life enjoyed by liberal democracies versus autocratic nations reveal a stark contrast. According to the US New and World Report, Sweden, Norway, Canada, Denmark, Finland, and Switzerland rank highest. All are liberal democracies. This study also shows identical ranking when human rights are considered. And the World Population Review shows that these same countries also enjoy the highest levels of personal freedom, and they are the happiest peoples on the earth.

Autocratic nations score poorly. Here is a sampling from the 87 nations evaluated by US News. For quality of life, China is highest ranked 25th, followed by, Turkey-31st, Hungary-35th, Russia- 51st, Jordan- 68th, and Belarus-84th. They also score poorly for human rights, personal freedom, and happiness. 

If America became an autocracy, only rich oligarchs would gain. For the rest of us, quality of life, personal freedom, happiness, and wealth would deteriorate. The United States would become like Russia, Turkey, and Hungary. And autocratic rule guarantees freedoms for no one, not even that of Christians.

 We, the American people, have cherished our personal rights and freedoms for generations. Democracy, with its emphasis on rational discourse and individual freedoms, continues to be the cornerstone of our nation. It will endure. The flag of democratic freedom will continue to wave. To trade this legacy for the certain miseries of autocratic rule would be irrational. As we have in the past, we can and will protect our democratic ideals and preserve the principles that have defined us for so long.

Bob Topper, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a retired engineer.

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