Thursday, November 11, 2004
by Wayne Besen
Religion and politics used to be two issues polite company did not discuss at the dinner table. But as the ill-mannered Neo-Puritan Right belches and bellows victoriously over their bread, it is clear that they have changed the rules of American civility in the most unappetizing ways. A Crucifix now dangerously adorns the body politic and threatens to crucify anyone who doesn't pander to the pious.
At its best, religion is a deeply personal tool to build a better life, much as Bush did when he used his faith to overcome alcoholism. Praying can give profound strength and bring great happiness to believers. Martin Luther King Jr. used his brave faith to guide him.
On the other hand, religion has also been used as an oppressive weapon. Its followers have brought us such catastrophes as the Crusades, the Inquisition, opposition to women's suffrage and support for slavery.
Perhaps the left is guilty, as Neo-Puritans claim, of denying religion a more prominent space in the public square. But the right is at greater fault for its cavalier dismissal of legitimate concerns over religion's unique combustibility in the civic realm. Simply put, thousands of years of history show us that dogma can be deadly.
Religion and secular society can happily coexist and prosper, as they traditionally have in America. But this delicate balance can only succeed if faiths are constructive, rather than destructive. A constructive faith makes rules for which it expects its followers to abide. While it desires society to share its views and moral standards, it has no interest in abusing civil law to persecute nonbelievers.
A destructive belief system, on the other hand, aims for a hostile takeover of civil law to coerce nonbelievers into living according to its harsh dictates. It turns Godly humility into gleeful humiliation for those who hold different views.
The current political religious revival is clearly destructive and has wounded this country. Indeed, twenty-four years after Rev. Jerry Falwell started the Moral Majority, civility has been undermined, our culture has coarsened and our nation has been profoundly fractured. Politics and religion are the new potatoes and rice at the dinner table. We are divided into Team Red and Team Blue, like Bloods and Crips. Thanks, Rev. Falwell!
For all the pious talk of morality, the tragic truth is that the red states were won with bloody red meat. Bush's campaign slogan could have been, "Vote Your Fears, Four More Years." The Republican elite frequently derided America's cradle of democracy by derisively sneezing out Mass-a-CHOO-sits. The humanity of ho-mo-SEX-u-als was degraded, as extra syllables of contempt vaulted from the vicious vernacular of "values voters".
With Neo-Puritans, it seems the ugly means justifies the ends, as long as it's in the service of ushering in the End Times. Now, Bush has to deal with the consequences as preening political preachers are bombastically boasting they won him the election.
"Hour by hour, we observed a 'slam dunk' as the Church of Jesus Christ made the difference…" said Rev. Jerry Falwell.
"The voters have delivered a moral mandate," cooed Dr. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, in Fort Lauderdale.
Bush should be wary because freedom and fundamentalism rarely co-exist peaceably. Liberty demands compromise and cooperation, values that Neo-Puritans confuse with appeasement and capitulation. The Falwell crowd is already trying to submarine Sen. Arlen Specter's, R-Penn., bid to chair the Judiciary Committee because he warned Bush against nominating extremist judges.
Additionally, on NBC's Meet the Press, Karl Rove said that the president would "absolutely" push for a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay people the freedom to marry.
The catch is, extremists are never satisfied until they vanquish the opposition. In Israel, Ariel Sharon thought he could handle the fanatical settlers in the Gaza Strip. Now, some are openly calling for the murder of their former patron. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah thought he could make nice with Osama bin Laden until the zealot literally blew up that arrangement.
A healthy nation is like a fish tank with a diversity of species of different sizes and colors. The various schools don't have to socialize or even get along. The only rule they must abide by is "live and let live". If you throw a piranha into the fish tank, the predatory fish devours and consumes all that cross its path, undermining the fragile ecosystem.
"I think America is turning back to what it once was, a biblical America," Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition told USA Today.
While Bush and the Neo-Pures stir a witch's brew of politics and religion at the dinner table, the president may find he's the main course and his second term is reduced to fish food by his fanatical followers.