As you may have heard, in North Carolina last Friday, the Republican legislature amended a bill that prohibited the recognition of Sharia law. The ammended bill would also greatly restrict abortion rights. The folks at The Rachel Maddow Show have been doing good reporting on this. But there is one aspect of the reporting that bothers me. For example, this morning, Steven Benen wrote, Republicans “took a bill related to Sharia law, of all things, [and] amended it to include sweeping new restrictions on reproductive rights.” I often find Maddow and company pretty clueless when it comes to understanding conservatives and this is a very good example.
It makes perfect sense to put abortion restrictions in a Sharia law bill. Both issues are key signifiers for the Republican base. Both issues are Christian in origin. The Republican base is not against abortion because they are concerned about issues of citizenship and the protection of life. They aren’t even concerned about theological question like when the soul enters a fetus. To these people, being against abortion says that they are the good kind of people—the God fearing kind.
Similarly, who is America is concerned that we are going to follow Sharia law? No one. But much of the Republican base is very interested in proclaiming that Christianity is better than the other religions. So the same people who want to put an end to the scourge of Sharia law are the very same people who want to put monuments of Jewish Law (Ten Commandments) in our courthouses.
I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush here. But the vast majority of social conservatives really don’t care so much about policy as about proclaiming that they are Good Christians and that the only way to heaven is through acceptance of Jesus Christ as savior. And that means first and foremost doing as their pastors tell them. And that means being against abortion because God decrees it, even though there is nothing in the Bible about this and even Thomas Aquinas thought that embryos were without souls. And secondarily, it means proclaiming that Christianity is the only true religion.
Nor do I mean to say that these social conservatives don’t really care about fetuses or their religious faith. But there is a process. First, they become associated with a tribe. That tribe has certain signifiers that indicate membership. The rest comes later. And can there be any doubt? A zygote is just 16 cells. Crushing an ant is an infinitely more cruel action than destroying a zygote. No one would have a strong opinion on this unless they were very detailed theological thinkers or (as is the case with almost everyone) simply people who were told to care by someone they respected.
So banning Sharia law and abortion at the same time makes perfect sense. It is too bad that the social conservatives aren’t more open about it. Then they might have proposed a better title for the bill than, “Family, Faith, and Freedom Protection Act.” Better would be, “Christians Rock and Everyone Else Sucks.”