At the New Humanist: “In God They Trust”

I had the cover story at the New Humanist in December.

The story I wrote explained to a British audience the ways in which religion moves within national American political conversations, and examines how conservative Christians are likely to cast their vote in the primary season. Based on research, analysis, and some reporting done at Rick Perry’s August prayer rally, The Response.

An American businessman enters a town, and wants to establish himself as someone who can be trusted, someone to do business with. It’s 1904. He has no contacts. But no matter: he knows there’s a surefire way to pass the credit checks of his new neighbours. The businessman joins a church. Max Weber noticed this peculiar system of trust on a trip to America, and observed that “Admission to the congregation is recognised as an absolute guarantee of the moral qualities of a gentleman, especially of those qualities required in business matters.” Of course, he added, scarcely a generation after his visit, the habit died away. Fraternal secular organisations cropped up in its place. The church was no longer the gateway to the brotherhood of businessmen. But if the 2012 Republican primaries tell us anything about the intersection of American trust and religion, it’s that the tradition to which Weber read the last rites is anything but expired.

When Texas governor Rick Perry decided he wanted to run for the President of the United States, he too may have felt he needed a little extra credit from the Republican base. But Perry didn’t just join a church – the longtime Methodist turned non-denominational Evangelical Christian was already affiliated. Instead, he issued a calling to like-minded believers around the nation: come to Reliant Stadium in Houston on a hot August day, and we will fast and pray for America, together. He wrote: “There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.” Exactly one week later, Perry announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination.

Read the rest at newhumanist.org.uk.

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