For the better part of four decades, the religious right has insisted that all it wants is a place at the table for Americans with “traditional values.” But if you listen to many a scholar or pundit among the nation’s so-called moral guardians, you’ll notice that when they think no one is listening, they express disturbing contempt for democracy and the rule of law.
For instance, just days before the 2018 elections, Lance Wallnau openly hoped for a time when critics of Donald Trump could be “taken out back and shot,” as is often the case in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Wallnau also seemed to applaud that there was “never a negative word” about China’s Xi Jinping.
It would take a lot of effort for a fundie luminary to get nearly as blatant in his sympathy for dictatorship. But a leading religious right scholar may have come close. He openly welcomed a blatant power grab by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban. Why? Wait for it–it’s in the interest of protecting Western civilization.
Steve Turley, an academic and speaker based in Newark, Delaware, a suburb of Philadelphia and Wilmington, has recently become a rising star on the religious right. His “Turley Talks” podcasts have become very influential among fundies with an intellectual bent. Like most of his brethren, Turley is an open and unashamed Trump supporter. In 2017, for instance, he claimed that Christian never-Trumpers are so fixated on Trump’s depravities that they don’t realize he is actually doing what he is supposed to do–protect the church. Watch here.
Turley noted that Trump promised to use the power of his office to “protect Christians and the Christian church”–which he sees as “the fundamental role of the state.” To his mind, any president who understands the importance of protecting “Christian-inspired Western civilization” is preferable any day of the week to “a morally approved choir boy secularized globalist.”
In other words, Turley sums up the moral contortions and distortions that have become standard operating procedure for the nation’s so-called moral guardians. But Turley took it to another level this weekend when he defended a disturbing move by Orban last month.
For some time, Orban has come under fire for his systematic dismantling of the rule of law and civil society in Hungary. Since beginning his second stint as prime minister in 2010, Orban has packed the courts and the civil service with political cronies, while subjecting the press to increasing intimidation and tarring corruption watchdogs to be tools of foreign interests. He has openly declared that he wants to build “an illiberal state” in which individual liberty takes a back seat to the collective goals of the people.
These trends were a major reason for the alarm that ensued when Orban used his supermajority in Hungary’s legislature to ram through a bill that vests his government with sweeping emergency powers to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Among other things, it gives him the power to rule by decree indefinitely. It also makes the spreading of news that hinders Budapest’s effort to respond to the pandemic punishable by up to five years in prison.
It’s become almost an article of faith on the far right that governors and mayors are using this pandemic to effectively shred the Constitution. So you would think that any far-right scholar who really professes to love the Constitution would be alarmed by this measure. Not Turley. He all but stood up and applauded. Watch here.
Turley loudly proclaimed that with this measure, Orban was overseeing “the gradual extinction of left-wing liberalism” in Hungary. In a disturbing sign of things to come, he did so while proudly showing a poster of French neo-fascist Marine le Pen in his room.
Turley claimed that Hungary’s parliament has the right to cancel these emergency measures at any time, so there are still “clear checks and balances.” However, Orban himself is on record as dismissing checks and balances as the product of “intellectual mediocrity.” Additionally, there is no sunset on this law.
Turning to the prospect of prison time for journalists–or “so-called journalists,” as he called them–Turley claimed that this was necessary to deal with the legal system’s inability to deal with journalists who demonstrate “anti-conservative cultural Marxist bias.” He claimed that such behavior has “gone into hyperdrive” on this side of the Atlantic. As Turley sees it, Orban is having none of this and has effectively declared Hungary “a fake news-free nation.”
Wait a minute. The far right is wailing about how politicians are eroding our freedoms during this pandemic, and a far-right scholar is openly applauding a country effectively gutting the free press? Has Turley considered that the lack of a free press in China may have allowed this virus to become a global menace? It’s not unreasonable to conclude that if there had been a way to counter Wuhan officials’ initial attempts to downplay the extent of this virus, it could have been contained a lot sooner–or at the very least without this heavy-handed social distancing we’re facing now.
If there was any doubt that Turley was perfectly fine with Orban’s budding authoritarianism, it was erased when he applauded Orban for “fumigating any trace of cultural Marxism” from Hungary’s arts and culture. When you hear anyone, scholar or not, refer to opposing views as things that must be “fumigated,” it should send a chill down your spine.
This can’t be dismissed as religious right agitprop. Turley was a longtime member of the faculty at Tall Oaks Classical Christian School, a private Christian school in Bear, near Turley’s home. It’s not clear whether Turley stayed on after Tall Oaks renamed itself Delaware Valley Classical School in 2019 and moved to New Castle. But the thought that Turley was or still is turning kids’ heads with authoritarianism wrapped in the cross is disturbing. Remember, Turley speaks to a constituency that mostly lives in a bubble.
We already knew that the religious right has few qualms about embracing authoritarianism. But Turley’s support of such nakedly dictatorial behavior is staggering. Listening to this, one can only conclude that the only differences between Turley and another so-called scholar on the far right, Richard Spencer, are 15 years and facial hair.
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