The Christian right mounts a revival with latest tantrum
Sen. Ted Cruz on Facebook.
After a banner year for pop music, Sunday's Grammy award show was quite the barnburner for pop culture discourse. Beyoncé fans decried the failure to award her groundbreaking "Renaissance" album the top award, while Harry Styles fans defended their man's acceptance speech. Twitter gossips enjoyed Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez quarreling. Taylor Swift won something and, more importantly, had truly astounding earrings.

Oh yeah, and conservatives absolutely lost their minds in what may or may not be a sincere panic over a "Satanic ritual" performed by Sam Smith and Kim Petras, which was, in reality, a heavily stagecrafted performance of their hit song "Unholy."

Perhaps I'm overly cynical, but when people like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., tweet stuff like, "The Grammy's featured Sam Smith's demonic performance and was sponsored by Pfizer," I'm disinclined to think the motivation is literal fear of the Prince of Darkness. After all, she made sure to include a grammatical mistake to maximize retweets and dunks from liberals. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., was definitely trolling in bad faith when he tweeted, "This…is…evil," while amplifying some right-wing pundit disingenuously claiming that "demons are teaching your kids to worship Satan." (If only it was incest porn, Cruz would be popping a "like" on it instead.) That said, it was funny watching Daily Wire host Matt Walsh screeching about how "leftism is Satanism," before going down a weird rabbit hole about "theological Satanism" and his totally imaginary taxonomy of Satanism.

As an attention-getting device, performative panic about Satan is always a winner.

As demonstrated by the hysterics over the Grammies, religious right leaders think they have an angle that will make them popular again: Playing the victim.

The Satanic panickers were rewarded this time with lots of reposting and amplification, though mostly from people laughing at these fools. (Still, in the right's trolling economy, negative attention is a valued asset.) But the whole display can't be written off only as a bunch of attention whores grabbing anything they can for engagement. For one thing, as is generally the case with any kind of Satanic panic, it's a cover for a deeper and more sinister agenda — in this case, stirring up right-wing hatred towards trans and nonbinary people like Petras and Smith. Even more, Republicans are going all out on this Satan nonsense as part of a larger and more serious effort by the religious right to make themselves relevant again.

Yep, the fundamentalists seem to think now is their chance to revive not just their political but their cultural power. They seem to believe they can revive their halcyon days of the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush years when their magical thinking about everything from creationism to Satanic messages in heavy metal music had real cultural sway.

Make no mistake: In many ways, the Christian right is as powerful as they ever were, having captured both the Republican Party and much of the federal judiciary. The overturn of Roe v. Wade last June and the onslaught of draconian abortion bans at the state level is a testament to how decades of organizing gave the Christian right a level of political power far beyond their numbers in the larger American population.

Republicans are going all out on this Satan nonsense as part of a larger and more serious effort by the religious right to make themselves relevant again.

Still, the Roe overturn has also exposed a very real weakness in the religious right's future grip on power: Most Americans hate them.

In election after election, voters turn out — even in deep red states — to vote down abortion bans. Post-election data shows that a major reason Republicans underperformed expectations in the midterms is their association with religious right. Most Americans support reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights. They oppose the religion-driven efforts to ban books in school. It's arguable that one major reason Donald Trump won the 2016 election is that his personal lack of interest in Christianity lulled some voters into thinking he wouldn't be a big friend to fundamentalists. Instead, he gave the Christian right everything they wanted, including three Supreme Court judges. He then went on to lose the 2020 election.

As demonstrated by the hysterics over the Grammy's, however, religious right leaders think they have an angle that will make them popular again: Playing the victim. So they increasingly rely on false claims that having to live in the country with people who aren't like them makes conservative Christians an oppressed minority. The war on education being led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., for example, heavily relies on this narrative. He and his supporters routinely frame modern books as a direct assault on their supposed right to live in a world unexposed to people or ideas they don't like. The right's protest movement against drag shows is more of the same, an attempt to flip the script and portray LGBTQ people as somehow an "invasive" force harming Christian conservatives.

In 2018, the far-right Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) tried this "Christians are the real victims" argument before the Supreme Court, in Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The ADF argued that a baker who broke the law by refusing service to a gay couple was the "real" victim of discrimination, but failed to sway the court's majority. Now with three Trump appointees on the Supreme Court, they are trying again with a similar case arguing that "religious freedom" is under attack by anti-discrimination legislation. This time, the more conservative tilt to the court likely means they'll get a legal victory — but it certainly doesn't mean the plaintiffs will be seen as anything but mean-spirited homophobes by the public.

This whole "Christian conservatives are the real victims" argument is also about to get a big boost from House Republicans. Under the leadership of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the House Judiciary Committee plans to use subpoena power to push a conspiracy theory accusing the Joe Biden administration of "persecuting" conservative Christians. The main strategy will be amplifying false accusations that the Justice Department has been "spying" on Christian right activists who are pushing a pro-censorship agenda in schools.

As Greg Sargent of the Washington Post argues, however, this "woe is us" stance is unlikely to work as well as Christian conservatives hope. It's not just that most Americans reject the notion that federal agencies are biased against conservatives, he argues. It's that most people are repulsed by the "toxic atmosphere of threats and violence toward educators" that is being fueled by the religious right's book banning campaign. So Sargent recommends that Democrats lean into this, using Jordan's antics to remind voters of why they reject the war on teachers and librarians.

He is right. While the religious right had a surge of popularity during the George W. Bush years — remember the "purity ring" trend? — it's been in a dramatic decline for the past decade and a half. White Christians are now a minority of Americans, in no small part because right-wing politics and anti-science attitudes caused huge numbers of younger people to give up on organized religion entirely. Christian conservatives cry about how they're so oppressed, but it's unlikely to fool anyone. Abortion bans and protests against drag shows are just a reminder that the Christian right is the same as it always was: A bunch of busybodies and prudes who want to impose their sexual hang-ups on the rest of us.

The Grammy's tantrum is more of the same. Republicans can yell about Satan until they're red in the face, but all most people will hear is a bunch of jerks who using religion as a cover to steal your joy. Uptight prigs have never been less popular, and whining will not change that for the Christian right.