Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann
Mike Johnson wants a religious litmus test for office holders, and thinks environmentalists are possessed by the Devil himself. This shows that his shtick is about power, not Christian religion. If it were about religion, he would be singing an entirely different tune.
Religious charlatans like Speaker Mike Johnson, exploiting a basic human urge to know the unknowable, to touch the mystery of life, are the most despicable of all the various types of con men on Earth. And the most dangerous.
For them, it’s rarely about religion: instead, it’s all about controlling others and acquiring wealth and power for themselves. Which is why more people have been murdered in the name of religion than any other single cause.
Certainly, charlatans like Johnson surround themselves with the trappings of religion. They pray in public with great fervor. They claim, with absolute certainty, that their particular god or holy book tells them who should be favored and who should be shunned. They know the rituals and behaviors that will give their god a smile or provoke his (it’s almost always a man) wrath.
Often their performative piety is so intense people conclude they actually believe what they’re preaching. Sometimes they do. And, when such people insert themselves into politics, that makes them even more destructive to a democratic society.
Mike Johnson, for example, reportedly argued just four years ago that there should be a religious test for access to political power in America. As David Corn reported in Mother Jones, Johnson told attendees to a workshop on America as a “Christian nation”:
“You better sit down any candidate who says they’re going to run for legislature and say, ‘I want to know what your worldview is. I want to know what, to know what you think about the Christian heritage of this country. I want to know what you think about God’s design for society. Have you even thought about that?’ If they hadn’t thought about it, you need to move on and find somebody who has…We have too many people in government who don’t know any of this stuff. They haven’t even thought about it.”
The idea of religious people taking over government is very much not what Jesus had in mind when He said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17 and Matthew 22:18-21.)
Johnson further clarifies the phoniness of his embrace of Jesus when you consider his very anti-Christ-like positions on despoiling our planet (climate change), tax cuts for billionaires, and his opposition to healthcare and other “welfare” programs.
For example, there is one and only one place in the Bible where Jesus explicitly tells his disciples what they must do to join him in heaven. And it’s not at all what Johnson is up to.
As Matthew (25:31) tells the story, Jesus’ disciples had gathered around him in a private and intimate setting on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:3) one quiet summer evening.
Finally, they thought, they could ask him, straight up, the question that had been haunting them, particularly now that the Roman authorities were starting to talk about punishing or even executing them all: How they could be sure to hang out with him in the afterlife? What does it take to get to Heaven?
In answer to their question, Jesus told them that at the end of days he’d be sitting on his throne separating the sheep from the goats “as a shepherd divideth.”
The nations of “sheep” would go with him to heaven, the “goats” to hell.
“For I was hungry, and ye gave me food,” he told his disciples he would say to the sheep. “I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”
At this point, his disciples—who had never, ever seen Jesus hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick, or naked—freaked out. Whoa! they shouted. We’re screwed!
“When saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee?” they asked, panicked. “Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?”
“Verily I say unto you,” Jesus replied, reassuring them, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
This is the only place in the Bible where Jesus explicitly tells his disciples what acts they must perform, in their entirety, to get into heaven.
Feed the hungry, care for refugees, house and clothe the homeless, heal the sick, have compassion on those in prison.
That’s it. (There are places where Jesus speaks of being “saved” through confession [John 14:6] or baptism [John 3:5], but no specific reference to heaven.)
Nothing in there about taking over governments, banning books, cursing queer people, or trying to overthrow elections you lost. Nothing about passing laws to enforce your religious beliefs, cripple the IRS, or religious litmus tests. Nothing about controlling women, embracing AR15s, or trickle-down economics.
Similarly, look at how false Christians like Johnson and his Republican buddies behave: it’s definitely not the way Jesus tried to teach them. His greatest teaching, outside of Matthew 25, is found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
Think about how last week a dozen or so “Christians” gathered around MAGA Mike on the floor of the House and loudly prayed for him when you read what Jesus had to say about that:
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
The “prosperity gospel” is the hot new thing among Republicans like Mike Johnson these days: if you just pray right, tithe to buy your megachurch’s pastor a new private jet, and hold a picture of yourself getting rich, everything will turn up roses.
That’s not, however, what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. Openly repudiating the prosperity gospel, he told his disciples:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
From that day forward they lived communally, sharing everything they owned and accumulating no earthly possessions.
You could argue that Jesus and his disciples were the world’s first communists, although every tribal society in history beat them to it: concentrated great wealth, oligarchy, police, and prisons all came with the agricultural revolution as small groups of sociopaths learned they could lock up the food and thus force everybody else to dance to their tune.
In one of his workshops that David Corn reviewed and reports on, for example, Johnson argues that the environmental movement “defies the created order of how this is all supposed to work.”
He believes environmentalists—presumably because they’re looking at scientific data rather than the Bible (Johnson apparently believes the Earth is 6000 years old and that Noah’s Ark held dinosaurs)—have rejected his god and instead adopted nature as sacred.
“When you take God out of the equation, and you remove absolute truths,” he told his followers, “you got to make all this stuff up. So what they’ve done is, as the Devil always does, they take the truth and they turn it upside down. So the radical environmentalists—they actually believe that the environment is God.”
The fossil fuel billionaires must have laughed themselves silly when they found Johnson: they really hit the jackpot. Here’s the guy two heartbeats away from the presidency and he thinks doing anything about climate change is Satan’s work.
Similarly, because democracy appears nowhere in the Bible, Johnson is just fine with strongman autocracy: he was the architect of the Republican Attorney General’s strategy to sue before the Supreme Court to throw out Biden’s votes in multiple swing states.
After all, King David wasn’t elected: why should King Donald tie himself up with all those silly “will of the majority” rules?
Religion has persisted throughout human history because we are wired to experience awe. Some find the presence of the divine when looking at stars in the night sky; some find it in childbirth and child-rearing; some find it in prayer and meditation.
Whether religious or secular, this ability to stand dumbstruck and in awe before the grandeur of creation is a universal human trait.
Which is exactly why it’s so disgusting and destructive when cynical hypocrites like Mike Johnson exploit sincere people’s faith just to acquire and hold political power or to serve great wealth.
As Jesus might say: “Mike, get in the back of the line with the rest of the goats!”
Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.