Republican state legislators are passing voter-suppression laws that prohibit giving food and water to people — “those people” — waiting in voting lines. If you see hungry or thirsty voters, you must not only deny them food and water but arrest anyone who tries to help them. Could this mark the emergence of Bad Samaritanism, a warped, Republican form of Christianity?

A lot of mainstream Christians, of course, will proudly defy such laws and go off in handcuffs to affirm their faith. I’m willing to bet the courts will toss out Bad Samaritan laws as impediments to voting.

Imagine Trumpian believers patrolling voting lines, pouncing on anyone drinking water. (Frankly, for the negative publicity it would garner, I’d like to see it recorded on cell phones.) How could they tell if the bottles of water were donated or were carried by voters with them? Could members of the same family share water bottles? Could voters buy water from a vendor across the street? Could voters briefly leave the line, drink water and come back? And bathroom breaks? Better not allow them. A true Bad Samaritan must inflict maximum discomfort to discourage voting.

Republicans might start calculating just how mean they wish to appear. Will meanness win or lose them votes? It would demonstrate that cruelty is the point. TV clips of police arresting water-givers could rival the impact of yesteryear’s images of clubbing, dogs and fire hoses on people seeking the right to vote.

On the positive side, Bad Samaritan laws could lead us to re-examine the many religious connections to democracy. And historically democracy had religious origins. Namely, modern democracy began among the countries of northwest Europe — England, Scotland, Scandinavia, the Netherlands — that turned Protestant in the 16th century. By declaring souls equal and communing directly with God, Protestantism prepared the cultural and institutional groundwork for democracy, including the separation of church and state.

In Catholic countries, a centralized church and its priests were tied to state power, a status they didn’t like giving up. Such countries needed several tumultuous centuries to attain stable democracy. French democracy was not established until the Third Republic (1871), Italian until after World War II, Portuguese until the revolution of 1974 and Spanish until Franco died in 1975. Hungary and Poland have reverted partly to their interwar authoritarianism.

A few Eastern Orthodox countries (Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia) have made it into Freedom House’s “partly free” category, but most remain “unfree.” Democratic protests are crushed by mass arrests in Russia and Belarus. Russia’s President Putin cynically called Alexei Navalny’s jailing simply Russian courts carrying out the law.

For some decades, fundamentalist U.S. denominations have turned political and made themselves combatants in the culture wars. The religious left seemed to have shriveled. I am reliably assured that it’s still there, operating in the form of food pantries, outreach efforts and think tanks. It’s just quieter than the culture warriors. But now churches could be ready for something bigger: another wave of religious involvement in human rights.

Southern Baptists, many of whom became fanatical Trumpists, recently had a hotly contested leadership election. A moderate wing — still theologically conservative — narrowly edged out an extremist takeover attempt at their Nashville convention.

Churches have their work cut out for them. Members, especially young people, have been drifting away. Church attendance is down. Many say they are “spiritual but not religious”; others are simply joining a growing mass indifference to religion. But things could change.

Several religious “awakenings” have punctuated U.S. history. Could we be on the brink of another one? If so, what could be behind it? Maybe the hyper-materialism of postwar U.S. culture has exhausted itself. Simply grasping for ever-greater incomes has lost some charm. Movies portray Gordon Gekkos and wolves of Wall Street in a very negative light, as hollow men. Do they stand for anything besides swankier homes, cars and clothes?

Recent recessions have altered American perspectives. Why dedicate your life to financial gain when a 2008 meltdown or 2020 pandemic can take it all away from you? Granted, Americans have always been highly materialistic, a trait that will not disappear. But now stability and security loom larger in our concerns.

If such a trend is indeed under way, people fleeing spiritual voids may return to religion. Churches will have to pick their paths carefully, though. Hypocrisy and intolerance will draw few adherents. We might glimpse the future of organized religion if we knew what seminaries are now teaching young aspirants to the pulpit. Anyone able to enlighten us?

“Values” discourse has grown in politics: “That’s not who we are.” This could contribute to the revival of a religious rejection of hatred and violence. Like Moses gazing toward the Promised Land, though, not all will make it across the Jordan. Those who catch and develop the flow of events will, others not.