Several years ago, I heard Republican strategist Karl Rove give a most eloquent answer to a question about his faith, rendered here from memory:
Faith is a gift that, unfortunately, I have not received.
I feel the same way about reality shows.
Whatever was given to the millions who delight in reality TV was not received by me. This is especially so when reality, religion and politics converge in a home populated by 19 children and two compulsively fertile adults.
I’m referring, of course, to “19 Kids and Counting,” which puts literate people in mind of a baby goat factory that under similarly procreative practices would prompt charges of animal cruelty. Human offspring are children, accurately speaking, not kids. And 19 of them isn’t just a brood but a sideshow.
As most know by now, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are the prolific parents in this mysteriously popular TLC show. They left to God the number of babies they would bring forth — and God is clearly not counting.
Recently, even the least-interested among us learned that their oldest, Josh, sexually preyed upon five underage girls, including some of his little sisters, 12 years ago when he was a teenager.
This despite the Duggars having raised their children by the book — home schooling, restricting access to entertainment, guiding courtships and advising that sex should await marriage, which come to think of it wouldn’t hurt a nation that seems to be in perpetual rut.
The Duggars’ expectations were more or less the norm not so very long ago — and many would argue that the country would be better off if more parents were similarly engaged in their children’s lives. This may explain in part why their show has ranked among the top 25 cable shows, especially among conservative Christians.
Other viewers most likely have been gawkers riveted by the spectacle of so much post-betrothal activity under one tent by just one couple, and the fact that no one in his or her right mind would wish 19 children on anyone.
The Duggars have further differentiated themselves from Mainstream America 2015 by subscribing to the Quiverfull (I’ll say) movement, a subset of the Christian patriarchy sect, the tenets of which are fairly obvious. Men rule; women serve. This would explain why Jim Bob went to church elders after his son confessed to child molestation and why he later sent Josh to see Arkansas State Trooper Jim Hutchens, who lectured him but took no action.
Perhaps this is because Hutchens was nursing some unholy thoughts of his own. He is now serving a 56-year sentence for child pornography.
Into this perverse auto-da-fe have waltzed two Republican presidential candidates, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, presumptively the two most devout Christians among the — hey! — 19 likely Republican presidential candidates. Numerologists? Both men have been political favorites of the Duggar family, though Santorum has now begun distancing himself.
The rather obvious expectation is that the GOP’s evangelical base will anoint either Huckabee or Santorum as their nominee. And these two candidates may not have been far-fetched in their calculations in cozying up to the family, but only if they have no ambitions beyond the primary.
Nationally, neither has a host of a chance of becoming president for the simple reason that Americans in increasing numbers find the convergence of religion and politics distasteful if not loathsome. This is especially true for political moderates and millennials, according to a just-released Pew Research Center study.
Young people — who missed the Golden Age when most people didn’t talk about their religious beliefs or their politics, and never in combination — perceive that to be religious is to be politically conservative. They’re saying “no thanks” to that and, by extrapolation, to anyone with an (R) after his or her name.
In the meantime, one religious group is flourishing: Muslims. Pew demographic projections forecast that Muslims eventually will surpass Jews as a religious minority owing to immigration and birth rates. To a party that tends to be skeptical toward Islam and draconian about immigration, separating politics from religion would seem to be an imperative of some urgency.
At the very least, Republicans wishing to become president might steer clear of religious grandstanding and avoid association with reality show stars whose single claim to fame is having more babies than anyone else.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.