Christiane Amanpour was eager to promote on her eponymous PBS program Tuesday a new documentary, “God & Country,” on the supposed threat posed by “Christian nationalism in America,” produced by actor, director, and veteran liberal alarmist Rob Reiner.
Amanpour: Extremism affects almost all religions in [the Middle East], and in the United States. A key part of former President Trump's base isn't just evangelical voters, but more specifically, what our next guest would call Christian nationalists, who are in fact a political movement. A little-remarked fact since the January 6th Capitol insurrection was the presence of so much Christian iconography and biblical references as the mob inside claimed to be defending Christian supremacy in America.
Amanpour really poured on the oil.
Amanpour: What inspired you to do "God & Country" about Christian nationalism as a documentary? Because obviously you're really, really, really well known for your fantastic films.
Reiner outlined his liberal throwback roots and skated through the interview without a single liberal label, while there were too many hostile ones thrown around against Christians to count.
Reiner: ….back in the late '70s, early '80s, Norman Lear launched an organization called People for the American Way, which focused on this idea that the Christian right was going to dictate what we should listen to, what we should not listen to, and it was very disturbing to him….
Reiner credited his awakening to the book The Power Worshippers by Katherine Stewart, who isn’t exactly a voice of sweet objectivity regarding American Christianity, as her crazed NY Times op-ed from March 2020, "The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals,” demonstrated.
After Amanpour explained who Norman Lear was for her “international audience” (Lear created the TV classic "All in the Family," for one, starring Reiner as Mike Stivic, aka "Meathead"), she set Reiner up to talk of the Christian imagery that supposedly dominated the January 6 Capitol Hill riot, “all those people waving crosses and speaking Bible verses and the like.”
Reiner: ….if you look closely, not only are there -- that the images that you point out, but there was an organizing tool. They organized the buses that got there. We're not saying that every person who stormed the Capitol was a Christian nationalist, but it was the foundation for the movement on January 6th.
While speaking of the dark side of Christian politics, nothing was said of valid social conservative concerns over so-called gender-affirming care for children, or "drag queen story time." Reiner didn’t face any tough questions.
Reiner condescendingly insisted he wasn’t bashing Christianity, only those Trump-loving rubes who fell for his dangerous rhetoric. Reiner said “we're not bashing Christianity at all,” noting the presence in his documentary of Christian theologians like Russell Moore.
Reiner himself worships at the church of Biden, judging by his embarrassing tweets.
Reiner: ….unfortunately, you have a lot of well-meaning Christians who do practice their faith and are devout in what they believe getting swept up in this Christian nationalist movement, which is essentially, as I pointed out before, a political movement, not a religious movement.
Amanpour casually dumped mainstream Christian theology over the side and wondered why Christians won’t do the same.
Amanpour: So, Rob Reiner, why do you think it is that Christian nationalists overlook that biblical teaching [“Live by the sword, die by the sword”] and, you know, they really get vociferous about all the sort of culture wars, whether it be abortion, LGBTQ, even, even women's rights?
Later Amanpour and Reiner managed to discuss international politics and the Holocaust while not mentioning the actual calls for Jewish genocide in the wake of Hamas’s terrorist attack on Israel, further proving how impervious the liberal media bubble is of tax-funded PBS.
A transcript is available, click “Expand.”
PBS Amanpour & Co.
1:49:21 p.m. (ET)
Now, extremism affects almost all religions in that region, and in the United States. A key part of Former President Trump's base isn't just evangelical voters, but more specifically, what our next guest would call Christian nationalists, who are in fact a political movement. A little remarked fact since the January 6th Capitol insurrection was the presence of so much Christian iconography and biblical references as the mob inside claimed to be defending Christian supremacy in America. The celebrated film director Rob Reiner has explored this phenomenon in his documentary, "God & Country." Here's a clip.
RUSSELL MOORE, PUBLIC THEOLOGIAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, CHRISTIANITY TODAY: Christian nationalism uses Christianity as a means to an end. That end being some form of authoritarianism.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Being a Christian is about the values of inclusion. Christian nationalism is certainly not based on the values of the gospel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God Wants America to be saved.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're told over and over and over again that you're in danger. You need to fight if you don't want to lose your country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in a civil war between good and evil.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a movement about Christian values, this is about Christian
AMANPOUR: Rob Reiner is best known for directing such classics as "A Few Good Men," "When Harry Met Sally," and "This Is Spinal Tap." Indeed, he's filming the long-awaited sequel now in New Orleans, where he joined me to discuss his other passion, trying to understand to warn Americans about a rising nationalism masquerading as true faith. Rob Reiner, welcome to the program.
ROB REINER, FILMMAKER: Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: What inspired you to do "God & Country" about Christian nationalism as a documentary? Because obviously you're really, really, really well known for your fantastic films.
REINER: Well, you know, I've kind of known about this movement for quite a while. I mean, back in the late '70s, early '80s, Norman Lear launched an organization called People for the American Way, which focused on this idea that the Christian right was going to dictate what we should listen to, what we should not listen to, and it was very disturbing to him. And as time went by, I saw this movement grow, but I didn't realize how powerful it was and how well-organized and well-funded it was until I read this book called "The Power Worshippers" by Katherine Stewart. And I then realized. That this has taken root far more deeply than I had ever thought.
AMANPOUR: So, you mentioned Norman Lear, just for our international audience, I just want to point out, he was the great TV pioneer, creator of all sorts of things, including "All in the Family." And he recently died at the grand old age of 101. He was -- that was your breakthrough series, that television series.
But back to this, because we'll talk about him in a little bit. You know, we've all known about the power of America's, you know, right-wing fringe, its Christian evangelicals, how they helped propel Trump, of all people into the White House. But I think, for me, what was so new about what you did was the notion of nationalism, and particularly how that really was on display at the insurrection at the Capitol. I'd never focused on all those imageries that you show and you focus on, all those people waving crosses and speaking bible verses and the like.
REINER: Yes. Well, you know, the interesting thing is that it -- you know, they go into the guise of a religious movement, but it really isn't. It's a political movement. It's all about gaining power. It's all about forcing your way of thinking on others.
And you're right. I mean, most people didn't focus on the fact that there was this Christian nationalist undercurrent to the insurrection on January 6th. But if you look closely, not only are there -- that the images that you point out, but there was an organizing tool. They organized the buses that got there. We're not saying that every person who stormed the Capitol was a Christian nationalist, but it was the foundation for the movement on January 6th.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you, what then is the proportion or the distinction between American Christians and American Christian nationalists? Do they work together? Do they work in opposition to each other?
REINER: Well, that's a great question, because when you see the documentary, you'll realize that we're not bashing Christianity at all. It's the exact opposite. As a matter of fact, we have some of the most conservative Christian thinkers, theologians, people who are devout to their faith talking about the danger of Christian nationalism, not just to democracy, but to Christianity itself. And unfortunately, you have a lot of well-meaning Christians who do practice their faith and are devout in what they believe getting swept up in this Christian nationalist movement, which is essentially, as I pointed out before, a political movement, not a religious movement.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And frankly, if I could paraphrase that, it's about power not religion. And one of your experts in the film says, if democracy gets in the way of Christian power, democracy has to go. So, I am going to play one of the clips. Because you have so many, you know, really distinguished Christian experts. Here's a clip of Russell Moore. He's the editor of Christianity Today. Now, he left a position, a senior position at the Southern Baptist Convention to protest this denomination's, you know, power politics. Here's what -- here's a bit of the soundbite.
MOORE: The Bible does depict a warrior Jesus just with a very different kind of warfare. The warfare takes place spiritually through the means of In the New Testament, Jesus repudiated that when his own disciple, Peter, pulled out the sword to defend him from being arrested. And Jesus said, put away your sword. Those who live by the sword will perish by the sword.
AMANPOUR: So, Rob Reiner, why do you think it is that Christian nationalists overlook that biblical teaching and, you know, they really get vociferous about all the sort of culture wars, whether it be abortion, LGBTQ, even, even women's rights?
REINER: Because I think, you know, when you look at the teachings of Jesus, that gets in the way of this political movement, because they have to resort -- you should resort to persuasion, to using your faith. And there's nothing wrong with using -- having your faith and form the way which you think about policy. That's OK. When you take it the next step and say you are doing something in the name of Jesus, you're acting violently in the name of Jesus, that's when you are going far afield from the teachings of Jesus. And these people are -- like we've said many, many times, it's a power movement. It's a political movement and it's their way or the highway.
And unfortunately, it can cause the exact opposite of what you -- what the founding fathers intended, which is to have religious freedom, to have the Constitution, which by the way, they don't believe in the separation of church and state. They believe that it's not in the Constitution and that America was founded as a Christian nation and they want it to remain and -- or to become. And, you know, in contrapuntal to the fact that we are a melting pot of society, we are more diverse than we ever have been. They want this to be a white Christian nation. They believe it's their right. And they're doing anything in their power, in the name of Jesus, to make that happen.
AMANPOUR: And we have to say here, yes, America historically is the great melting pot. But right now, you're seeing that the idea of immigration is a major motivator, certainly for the Republicans, certainly for Trump, who's called, you know, immigrants. You know, poisoning the blood of Americans. So, I'm sure that plays into all this white Christian nationalist supremacy.
But I do want to ask you, particularly about the separation of church and state, because they grab onto that as a reason for it. So, the Constitution does not. say it, right? That is true. But what -- you know, where it does appear is in 1802, in a letter by Thomas Jefferson, the First Amendment, he calls a wall of separation between church and state. The First Amendment, as we know, says that there should be no law establishing religion. Article 5 says no religious test ever for high office, et cetera. How does one convince in this era of not only fake news but supremacy minority politics that actually they're not right by the Constitution, by the laws of the land?
REINER: Well, you're exactly right. The words separation of church and state, they themselves do not appear in the Constitution. But there are three references. There are three indications. And we have a Constitutional scholar in the film walking you through it. Three times it is mentioned inthe Constitution that the government will make no religion.
In the First Amendment, it gives you the free right to practice religion however you please. They said there'll be no religious test to hold office. And we know based on all of the writings of the founding fathers that the reason they wanted that was because they were breaking away from religious persecution. And our Constitution is the only one in the world that starts with, we the people. It gives the power to the people, not to a deity. And there is a clear separation of church and state in the Constitution is throughout.
AMANPOUR: Just for people's knowledge, when did all this sort of God stuff appear on coins and in schools and in God We Trust and all of that kind of stuff?
REINER: Well, in -- I remember very distinctly, because I was in grade school in 1954. They added to the Pledge of Allegiance. It used to be one nation indivisible. They added one nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all. And that was added in 1954. And the coins, I can't remember exactly what dates the coins were.
REINER: But the point is, that's OK. In God we trust is OK. But we're not saying what the God is. We're not saying it's a Christian God, it's a Jewish God, it's a Muslim God. They're saying in God we trust. In other words, it's OK to have God in your life and have a religion in your life. You just can't specify which religion this is.
And that's what Christian nationalism, they say, they believe that this is a white Christian nation and it has to be -- it is prescribed, it is ordained by God that this is the case, and it's just not so.
AMANPOUR: Let me just divert a little bit because, you know, a Muslim God, a Jewish God, a Hindu God, you know, all sorts of different gods, Christian God. You know, there is a fear of a rising nationalism, again, not just Christian nationalism, but rising, you know, fascism, far-right extremism, we've got a lot of concerns about what might be happening in Europe, which may reflect themselves in upcoming E.U. elections.
Your wife and yourself recently visited Auschwitz. Your wife, Michele's, mother is a Holocaust survivor, and her entire family was lost at Auschwitz. I wonder, was that at all part of your concerns? Reflect on that given the work in this nationalist -- on this nationalistic politics that you've just done.
REINER: Well, as a Jewish person, that -- it's never very far from your thinking in terms of how things can very quickly move. We've heard that expression a never again. And as a Jewish person, not only did my wife's mother's family -- she lost her entire family, my aunt, who was also in
Auschwitz, lost her whole family in the Holocaust. So, it's never very far away from you. And you can see the earmarks of how this nationalism can take hold, and can take hold very quickly. I mean, we in America, you know, we blanch at or we recoil at the idea of, oh, they're going to institute Sharia law, as if we can't have that. Well, you know, Sharia law is a version of religious nationalism, and the same as we're going to be a white Christian nation, it's the same.
And you're right. We're seeing that spread throughout the world and it's very dangerous. Right now, America is right at the crossroads of whether or not this world starts evolving into an autocratic world as opposed to holding on to democracy. We're the oldest democracy in the world. We've been around for 249 years. We've had that many years of self-rule, and the election that you're seeing coming up in 2024 is going to be a referendum on whether or not we want to maintain and hold on to our democracy, or do we want to give it over to autocracy, fascism, or theocracy.
AMANPOUR: So, you referenced Norman Lear, and I just wanted to ask you about him because, you know, he created "All in the Family." That was your breakout role. You were the son of the famous Archie Bunker. And that was a different America. I mean, that was decades ago.
I wonder whether you can reflect on what Archie's generation might have thought of Christian nationalism and this rise of autocracy. And by virtue of that, Norman Lear, what he meant to you in his incredibly pioneering creative ideas.
REINER: Well, Norman, you know, he recently passed away, as you said. He was 101. We did a tribute to him at the Emmys this past year, Sally Struthers and myself. And I talked about him, I used the Yiddish phrase, I said he was a kochleffel. And a kochleffel is a ladle that stirs the pot, and that's what Norman did.
He stirred the pot. He changed the landscape of how we receive television. He talked about real people, real issues. He had political opponents going at each other. And I learned from him not only how to make great and funny television and great funny movies, he was a supporter of mine, and he was like a second father to me. I loved him. I loved him dearly. And it's sad to me that he had to go, but he left a tremendous legacy, which is that we can -- we should fight. We should fight for this freedom of religion, of speech, of our independence, and protect the rule of law. He was a great man and I miss him terribly.
AMANPOUR: I want to just ask you about what you're doing now. I think in New Orleans you're filming the sequel to your legendary film, "This Is Spinal Tap." So, how did you get all the band people together again?
REINER: Well, it's very difficult. It's like herding cats. It's like the -- you know, it's like the House of Representatives. No, but we've been asked over the years to, you know, do a sequel, do a sequel. And we never wanted to do it until we had an idea that I think is going to work. And hopefully it does. If not, you know, they'll stone me or something.
AMANPOUR: Well, we'll wait to see. And I just want to end on your documentary again, because the premiere was at the U.S. Capitol. That's, you know, not a so subtle place to have it, given what it focuses on. It's obviously coming out in a couple of weeks from now. What was your intention by holding it there and actually releasing this at this time now?
REINER: Well, the holding of the Capitol was a great idea by our distributor and our publicist, Dan Berger, who from oscilloscope, because we wanted to get the conversation started. We've also had a -- recently had a screening in Dallas. We had one -- we'll have one in Florida, in Providence. We have screenings around the country.
We want to get the conversation started. And particularly for the Christian audience, which, like I said, we're not bashing Christianity, it's the exact opposite. We want people to start talking about it and see what this idea of Christian nationalism is and how to define it, and to see that you might be swept up in something that you may not agree with. So, we want people to start talking to each other. And that's why we have the screening at the Capitol.
AMANPOUR: Amazing. Rob Reiner, thank you so much indeed.
REINER: Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: And "God & Country" premieres in theaters on February 16th.