American Turban

The unrelenting appeal of American godmen

“Republican candidate for Senate Judge Roy Moore rides his horse after voting in Gallant, Ala. (JONATHAN BACHMAN/REUTERS)” (Source: New York Daily News, December 13, 2017.)

Wednesday night’s special election result in Alabama was a clear revelation on several fronts, particularly when the exit polls were analyzed that demonstrated the constituency of support garnered by the two candidates, Republican Roy Moore — the ostensible and rebellious conservative Christian plagued with accusations around pedophilia and improper conduct with women and girls — and the victorious Democrat Doug Jones, considered an underdog candidate for a state that hadn’t elected a Democrat for Senator in decades.

The exit polling revealed several broad trends, as described by The Washington Post:

“Exit poll results: How different groups voted in Alabama” (Source: The Washington Post, December 13, 2017.)

Beyond partisan support, Jones received a near “unanimous” showing of the black vote (especially so among black women), and doubled in percentage of the white vote compared to Barack Obama in 2012, the increase driven in large part by white women. However, this increase in the white vote was still in smaller proportion compared to the white vote that supported Moore. The Alabama constituency split remarkably down racial lines, according to the exit polling reported by The Washington Post:

Roy Moore won among whites in Alabama, particularly non-college educated. (Source: The Washington Post, December 13, 2017).

Roy Moore won among whites in Alabama, particularly non-college educated. (Source: The Washington Post, December 13, 2017).

Moore’s comments about slavery, Islam, and his alleged misconduct of girls and women would reasonably explain why the support among these groups steered to the Democrat rival in a strong Republican state, but the results yield the question: in light of the allegations around the Republican candidate, why did the majority of the white vote, and especially white women, still vote for Moore?

There are many explanations pertaining to Moore’s branding himself around conservative Christianity and Republicanism that may have appealed to conservative/Evangelical Christians in the state. However, self-identifying Christians of other races supported Jones in greater proportion. White women were less convinced than black women that the allegations against Moore were true and voted for him anyway. Why did self-identifying white Christians still support hold steadfast to Moore despite the allegations of impropriety?

Notwithstanding the obvious answers related to race and party affiliation in the United States, we may find further insight that contextualized this phenomenon more globally as we recently have seen parallel tendencies in other countries. Perhaps a look at India’s “godmen” and the unwavering support they have received despite scandal and controversy will shed additional light on what transpires here in the United States.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh riding a horse. (Source: India.com)

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. (Source: India.com)

One recent case in India reveals some parallels. Back in August, the popular Indian “godman” Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was convicted of two counts of rape of female followers of his cult. His supporters threatened protests and riots if he was found guilty, and several cities were under lockdown/curfew scenarios. While convicted, Singh remains popular with many of his male and female supporters (an interesting interview published in The Wire of his followers demonstrates the extent of this devotion even after the guilty verdict) who dismiss the convictions as false and consider them as an attempt by the powers-that-be to persecute their leader. We have seen similar explanations pertaining to the allegations against Roy Moore.

An article published by Scroll.in explored several explanations about why — like Moore — Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh maintained such steadfast support in India despite his convictions of rape (though Moore’s charges were allegations, there were many). Many of these seem almost transferable to Alabama and the United States:

  1. Such individuals brand themselves as serving a higher interest above current contemporary norms.
  2. Many people are resistant to changes in culture and social trends that are deviating from what they perceive as ideal, and find validation in a personality that offers legitimate resistance to change. The “most ‘natural’ reaction to processes of intensive change is the search for meaning in older forms of associations such as the extended family and the religious community.”
  3. Such an personality offers empowerment and a sense of belonging for the underprivileged supporter — they offer a means for individuals who feel powerless to feel like they can effect change as the those such as Moore or Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh “offer apparent equality, access to spiritual life, ministration of everyday needs, as well as being part of the world of goods.” They undermine societal structures and position themselves both as champion of an idealized worldview and a manifestation of a victimhood of the current order.

There are several tendencies in common between Moore and Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. Such men promote themselves as operating above contemporary social norms which are labeled as corrupt and a descent from higher values from older times. In Alabama, Moore often invoked the Bible, God and Christianity as a judge (he was the “Ten Commandments Judge”) and candidate for Senate; he believed that “Christian” law must reign supreme over the country and often ran at odds with American law that separated church and state.

Yet, Moore continued to carry the banner of Christian supremacy alongside his political banner, and it was his mission to bring this to the federal government to realize the dream of (or to return America to) a Christian-like nation that would align all citizens to those perceived values. For his followers who are feeling left behind and marginalized, Roy Moore appealed to their vision of the world order and served as a champion for this vision of the world in times of rapid change. It explains why such men are too hard to give up.

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