The 2012 Presidential Election has started in earnest now that the Republicans have settled on their candidate. The dog and pony show that the GOP put on as a race for the nomination didn’t ever really seem in doubt simply because the candidates were so prone to taking themselves out of the hunt. None of us believed for a minute that Michelle Bachman or Rick Perry stood a snowball’s chance in hell of being nominated to run against Obama in November while Gingrich has too much history in Washington to ever be elected and Santorum and Ron Paul were never taken seriously enough as candidates to be anything more than a foil for the Romney machine. Even so, Romney doesn’t really have the full support of Republicans, especially middle class Americans who have been nettled by many of Romney’s flippant references to his wealth. All of this raises serious questions about whether Republicans got the candidate that they want or just a faute de mieux.
By choosing Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate for the 2012 election the GOP has embraced the most extreme of their Right Wing candidates. While they have tried to shift the focus away from Romney’s more extremist views and onto his record as a captain of industry his radical religious stance and his rejection of a humanist view of society are a clear indication of whose interests he will be representing if he makes it to the White House. This raises the question of whether someone with such an extreme political persuasion can genuinely represent the People. If Mitt Romney is elected to be the President of the United States will the People be giving control of the country to a minority group of religious fanatics?
Right wing fundamentalist Christianity has already played a prominent part in the GOP presidential candidacy race with Mitt Romney’s connection to Mormonism and previously to Dominion Theology being described in terms that equated both movements with cults. The potential for leveraging political mileage out of Romney’s attachment to these cult like communities hasn’t been lost on either the media or the other candidates and even the almost unreligious Rick Perry made a campaign statement about his views on clerical influences in government that left no doubt that he wanted to distance himself from radical fundamentalist Christians in the Right Wing of the GOP, saying in his book On My Honor; “Let’s be clear: I don’t believe government, which taxes people regardless of their faith, should espouse a specific faith.”
The GOP has made serious efforts to play down Romney’s connection to Mormonism but the media still jumped all over the Romney family’s visit to the Latter Day Saints’ church in
Wolfeboro, the small New Hampshire town where the GOP candidate went for a short summer vacation with his family in July. Even though the political analysts are presently saying that Romney’s Mormonism won’t affect the Republican turnout to the election the fact remains that across the political board one fifth of Americans have indicated that they would never vote for a Mormon president, a figure that has remained unchanged since 19671. Meanwhile the Democrats have assiduously avoided playing the whacky religion card perhaps because recent polls have shown that 11% of Americans think that President Obama is a Muslim2.
It is well known that Mitt Romney is a fifth generation Mormon whose lineage in the religion goes back to Parley P. Pratt, one of the original leaders of the church. It would be naive to think that a religion that is so deeply ingrained in someone’s consciousness would not let its philosophies influence his decisions. Romney is no adult convert to LDS and so he has been indoctrinated all of his life to believe that by wearing special underwear and belonging to the inner sanctum of the Mormon world he is assured of his place in the first class heaven. He also believes that everyone on earth should be converted to Mormonism which seems a very limiting view for the President, who is supposed to be the prime proponent of our constitutional rights to hold. It also bodes poorly for America’s future relations with other cultures that hold non Christian spiritual beliefs.
Romney’s spiritual elitism doesn’t end there though and because one of the core doctrines of the LDS is that they are the chosen leaders of America he has been touted as seeing himself as the one who will finally fulfill the White Horse Prophecy that is a tenet of Mormonism no matter how stridently Romney denies it publicly. The danger if Romney is actually elected to be President is that he may interpret it as a mandate not only from the people but from God. It is this belief in clerical government that has developed Romney’s most dangerous political alliance to the Dominionists that inhabit the extremities of the GOP’s far Right Wing and who would turn the United States’ democracy into a theocracy that would make the Taliban’s model for government look decidedly liberal.
The push in America by many radical right wing supporters to have religion, and by that they mean fundamentalist Christianity, take more of an active role in government is espoused by them as the way to salvation and many equate the current world economic crisis to be a sign that we have departed from the laws of God by becoming more liberal and less devout. While the Fundamentalist’s scripture twisting diatribes are swallowed wholesale by those people that are clinging to the fast disappearing Christian world view, for most of the middle classes their agenda sounds like a fundamentalist cult. The drive to politicize Dominion Theology via its associated advocate groups, most notably The Christian Coalition of America (CCA), is the right wing fundamentalist response to what they see as the moral degeneration of accepting things like homosexuality, abortion, same sex marriages and many of the other liberal freedoms that are the hallmark of modern, first world Western cultures.
Dominionism has become deeply entrenched in the GOP in recent decades and while Romney isn’t directly associated with them anymore many of the power players in the Republican Party are. Two of the GOP candidates that ran against Romney for the Republican nomination, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry, both have strong ties to Dominionism as do many of Romney’s more Right Wing supporters in both Houses. Even though this powerful lobby group didn’t get one of their candidates into the Presidential race this time they still have a marked influence over Romney and are sure to use their common interests in establishing a theocratic elite to push their agenda should Romney be elected.
Romney’s plans to go to Israel could represent an effort to look more like a mainstream Christian to ensure that he has the support of the middle ground in the GOP that is more than a little frightened by the zeal of the Fundamental Christian Right Wing lobby. It could also be interpreted as some sort of messiah fixation that Romney should make a pilgrimage before ascending to his proper place as the savior of the nation. Either way it is a clear signal that Romney intends to include his religious beliefs in his political agenda. George W. Bush may have talked to God every day while he was in office but Mitt Romney seems intent on inviting his God to sit in on his cabinet meetings.
All of this means that the next election isn’t all about health care and the national debt like the media would have us all believe. The next election is about the ownership of our souls. If the Fundamentalist Christians do get their man into the Oval Office the struggle to keep the narrow minded views of a few religious extremists out of the government’s policies will become more difficult. The religious zealots have already contributed to the dumbing down of the education system by insisting on banning anything that contravenes their ridiculous creationist beliefs or narrow views on morality. If they achieve any real political power or influence it would seem that there is a danger of many of the social advances that have been hard won in previous decades could all be undone in one Presidential term of office.
The ironic aspect of all of this is that in order to get the votes that he needs Romney will have to convince the Tea Party that he isn’t too extreme to represent their interests. The middle ground of the GOP wants to see Obama out of office but could be wary of the price that they pay by installing Romney in his place. The darling media clown of the Tea Party Glenn Beck famously jumped on board the Romney bandwagon as soon as he was confirmed as the GOP candidate but was also quick to add that he would have been willing to back anybody in order to see Obama out of the Oval Office- hardly a stirring endorsement of Romney’s campaign and policies to the Republican faithful. Even so, this seems to be the general feeling that the middle ground in the GOP has for Romney; he’s not the man that they wanted for the job but now that he is the man that they have got they will probably support him just to oppose Obama. If this is the case then Romney has a lot of hard work ahead of him convincing these middle class Americans that he understands their concerns and intends to represent their interests.
Given Romney’s long record of flip-flopping on issues like planned parenthood and his apparent disregard for the very poor middle class Republicans could be forgiven for not trusting that he has given up his more extreme Right Wing attitudes and his affiliation with the Dominionists especially after Erich Fehrnstrom, a senior advisor to Romney, went on the record at CNN with claims that he could change his position on any number of conservative issues during the presidential campaign3. The Tea Party are rightly wary of backing a candidate that has indicated that he changes his policies like shaking an etch-a-sketch which prompted his rival for the GOP nomination at the time Rick Santorum to say; “Well, that should be comforting to all of you who are voting in this primary.”
The difficulty that the GOP had in choosing a candidate that would have broad appeal for middle class America is just another symptom of the diminishing relevance of the Republican Party to the fastest growing demographic in American society today, the young. As western culture becomes increasingly non-religious the Fundamentalist Christians become more marginalized and in an attempt to retain their WASPish illusion of America they are making an all out push to grasp the reins of power.
With the bulk of moderate Republicans preparing to vote for Romney for no other reason than because he is not Barack Obama the Christian Right have their best chance to railroad the middle class vote to unknowingly support their Fundamentalist agenda. Republicans may feel that they need to oust Obama but it remains to be seen whether they are willing to pay the price of electing Mitt Romney in his place.
1. Trouble for Mitt Romney? Poll says anti-Mormon bias unchanged since 1967, Daniel Burke, Washington Post June 22 2012
The current debate in America over same sex marriage has focused the spotlight on ‘Gay Rights’ and raised the question of what equality really is. By focusing on a marginalized minority’s fight for an equality of recognition that should never have been questioned the fundamentalist Christians that oppose gay marriage are trying to impose their specifically narrow view of life onto all Americans.
Standing against the cultural current, the Christian Right try and conjure a view of God fearing Americans adhering to the solid protestant values of Medieval Europeans that is nothing more than an illusion. Using fear as their lever they fight to retain control over a world in which they are becoming an endangered minority themselves. Those on the extreme of the Right Wing understand that their only hope to hold onto their power in a changing world is to deprive their fellow citizens of their rights and freedoms and have used every opportunity that they have been able to manufacture in recent years to do just that.
Instead of being focused on whether there should be equal rights for gays we should be asking how the government came to be able to withhold this and other rights from us in the first place. The state has no place interfering in the personal relationships of its citizens.
The United States has no state sanctioned religion that determines what is and is not a lawful union between two people and the Conservative Christian intrusion into the legislature in this manner is far beyond the powers of the administrative government that the Framers envisioned when they wrote the Constitution. No state should have a mandate for not accepting a marriage between any two people; in their role as the administrators of the Will of the People our governors should instead be adapting the way that they govern to be an expression of the way that contemporary Americans live.
The real issue at stake isn’t whether same sex couples should have the right to marry if they choose to, it is whether we should all have the liberty to decide for ourselves how we want to live our lives, how we choose to pursue our own happiness. The threat that the Christian Right perceive from alternatives to their brand of the ‘right way to live’ is not that allowing same sex marriages will somehow corrupt America, the threat is to their cultural predominance and their fear is palpable.
Recent US Census figures have shown that the majority of children being born now are from one of America’s many minorities and that the ageing white population, with its low birth rate is becoming just another segment of society. The radical Right’s reaction to the perceived threat from these minorities to their culturally dominant position is summed up in the almost incoherent tirade by staunch conservative Rush Limbaugh in which he said; “And the warning is: You are on the wrong side of history. And you are on the wrong side of demographics. You better do what the coming majority wants right now, or you’re gonna suffer the consequences. There is an implied threat in this story. You’re getting older. You’re white and you’re dying off. Pretty soon you’re gonna find out what it’s been like to not be you.”
This divisive attitude that is the zeitgeist of the Fundamental Right, that God is on their side that they are some sort of chosen elite who are fit to decide what is right for everyone else, has been the platform for their success. The result of their efforts is an Orwellian America where freedom is in retreat, sacrificed on the altar of fear to preserve a way of American life that never really existed.
If leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away- George Orwell 1984
Who really gains from denying people the right to have a relationship with whoever they choose to? Only those who would have us fear a world in which sexuality is not rigidly defined and life choices aren’t dictated from the pulpit of a Pentecostal Evangelist. Fundamental Christian beliefs have no real place in the legislative process and the state needs to maintain its separation from the church more now than ever before in history. In the end the religion card is just smoke and mirrors to distract people from the real intention of the Right which is to maintain the fear that they use to stay in power. By beating their drum about the degeneration of our society that would ensue if we let anyone who wants to live in the way that they choose to they spread fear that the America of the future will somehow not be a place for Americans any more.
The irony is that, as David Bositis, from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies said, “The Republicans’ problem is their voters are white, aging and dying off. There will come a time when they suffer catastrophic losses with the realization of the population changes.” The America of the future is not going to be populated by GOP voters but in their struggle to survive they are choosing minority targets to attack to make it seem like America can’t do without them. Unfortunately for them, as we have become a more educated and enlightened society we have come to see that this privileged minority serve no function and that the time has come to sweep them away.
The Christian Right is fighting for its life. All of its most basic tenets are being challenged and often dispensed with as the Fundamentalist Christian views have become increasingly marginalized by mainstream American culture. The mileage that they have gained by demonizing Islam has begun to run its course and the people whose freedoms have been curtailed on the pretext of national security begin to question the wisdom of trading their civil rights for an illusion of safety.
Gays make up only .6% of the households in the United States, a tiny demographic comprising less than 5% of the entire population. This makes the gay community an easy minority to attack. After all, if the WASPs are becoming a marginalized minority themselves there is little future in attacking the minorities that they will be competing with for power in the future. But the fear runs deeper than that because if gay marriage becomes accepted by the mainstream it threatens to dispel their illusion of America being corrupted from within.
The misconceptions of what would result from recognizing same sex couples equality in the eyes of the law have been a Fundamental Christian mantra. As these fears remain unrealized and Gay couples live normal, productive lives and raise normal American children in average American households the illusion that the only American family is the traditional nuclear family will be shattered. As gay couples prosper and continue to contribute in a meaningful way to society, as acceptance grows, the Christian Right’s moral premise continues to diminish.
The Christian Right sees its base of power dwindling and the decline of the God Fearing America that was once so easy to control. As the power has slipped through their fingers they have gone to the one weapon that has never failed them- fear. At first it was fear of the terrorist threat to America but soon it had been morphed into selling fear of a threat from within, one that challenged the way of life that they defined as ‘American’. These threats are as amorphous as the definition of the American Way of Life and allow the aggressors to continually shift the target to continuously create a new enemy with which they can threaten the people.
The perceived terrorist threat to the Western world gave the Right the opportunity to begin cutting back on the freedoms of Americans in the name of National Security and the cropping of freedom has continued at a pace ever since. Government has become opaque and our Fourth Amendment rights have been waived away in the face of the ever present danger. All of our personal details, every e-mail that we send and even the phone calls that we make can now be monitored and on the pretense of the security of the homeland it isn’t necessary to even show probable cause before government agencies can intrude into the lives of any American. CISPA was passed by a Congress that has become so used to using fear as the basis of its policy that the corrosion of freedom that it perpetuates isn’t even the focus of the debate. The evolution of America into the police state that the Christian Right are clamoring for is making modern America into a nation run by fascist storm troopers with imperial ambitions that disguises itself under a façade of liberty and equality.
The Christian Right’s apple pie and bunting view of traditional America has as little to do with the real history of the United States as it has with contemporary American culture. Even the picture of the Golden Age of America when mom and dad brought their kids up to have strong Christian values and everything was hunky dory is really just looking at history through rose colored glasses. In reality the divorce rate was at 25% of the marriage rate, crime rates were heading north and America was far from being a nation of WASPs. Whites are rapidly becoming a minority in America’s increasingly culturally diverse society and the traditional American way of life is evolving into a society that is no longer bound together, however loosely, by a tacit acceptance of a particular religion as the foundation of their moral code.
The real issue isn’t about gay rights; there are no gay rights- there are only rights. To deny someone one of their inalienable rights is to tacitly condone giving up all of our rights. By focusing on gay rights the Right Wing make it about a small group- it becomes about them and not about us. By focusing on the rights of any minority it makes it seem like someone else’s rights that are being stolen from them, not our rights. The truth is that we have all lost a right even if we never choose to exercise it. The right that they wish to steal is the freedom to choose for ourselves how we will live and when freedoms are lost they are very hard to get back.
For all of the freedoms that Americans have relinquished to secure their safety in an ever more antagonistic world they are no safer now than they were ten years ago. All that has happened is that they have had to accept an ever increasing infringement of their civil rights. The only difference is that Americans are less free. Fortunately the Founders left us a clear guide to the course of action that all Americans can take to rebuild their freedom as a last line of defense:
5. Gay and Lesbian Families in The United States: Same-Sex Unmarried Partner Households- David M. Smith, Gary J. Gates, Ph.D.
I’ve never been much for playing the race card. In fact, I tend to go well out of my way to ensure that I don’t make what social scientists call a Type I error, or claiming evidence for something that isn’t actually there. However, three political events have occurred this year involving President Barack Obama that have made even me, cautious race card player that I am, reach for mine. These events, though subtle, when considered in a history light and how rarely (if ever) they’ve occurred, suggest a racist underpinning.
Let’s start with Jan Brewer, Governor of Arizona, who in January had the audacity to stick her finger in the President’s face and lecture him as if he were a misbehaving schoolboy. I understand free speech and the desire to get your point across as Jan Brewer claimed she was doing, but there are much more acceptable ways to do so. Yet, in lieu of an apology, Governor Brewer shifted the onus of her finger wagging to the president, claiming she felt “threatened.” Threatened. By the President of the United States. In broad daylight and in view of cameras beaming their satellite-relayed exchange to millions. With all due respect to Governor Brewer—the very little that I have—that’s just absurd.
The concept of the “threatening” black man is rooted in stereotypes of black males as innately aggressive and driven by violent forces beyond their control. It’s in the genes, so to speak.
In studies involving simulated shooter scenarios, black men, regardless of dress or what they are holding (gun, wallet or cellphone), are more likely to be shot than their white counterparts. This concept is known as Shooter Bias, and it works off the racial stereotype that blacks are dangerous. Similarly, in a 2006 experiment published in the Journal of Social Psychology, researcher Joshua Correll found higher Event Related brain Potentials (ERPs)—changes in the electrical activity of the brain due to a stimulus—when participants looked at black faces. Specifically, the study showed that P200s, a component of ERPs that responds to threatening images, was higher when participants viewed black versus white faces. Blacks are perceived as more threatening than whites.
If you’re a black male, you already know this. Now you have science to back it up.
If Governor Brewer did indeed feel threatened by the President, I am inclined to believe it had less to do with the president’s actions and more to do with her erroneous perception of the president due to his race—conscious or otherwise. But again, this is just a thesis; I could be wrong.
Let’s move on to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, also of Arizona, who despite all evidence to the contrary, assembled a crack team of investigative professionals (whom he calls, either blatantly or ignorantly, his “posse”) to root out the “truth” behind President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. He called a press conference in March to announce that not only had he found evidence that President Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery, but that so is his selective service registration card. According to Arpaio, the President is not an American, and he’s a potential draft dodger. Talk about upping the ante.
The whole birther movement, I’m afraid, is a thinly veiled (if that) attempt to paint Obama as a liar, as a man willing and able to doctor documents and seduce the truth into silence so that…well, I’m not sure what the nefarious endgame is suppose to be. Turn America into a socialist nation? Hand it over to the Arabs? Erode its traditional values (which, by the way, include a very strong legacy of racism. I am in no hurry to get back to those traditional values)? Or just make sure it ceases to be the best country in the world (whatever that means) either by design or incompetence. I don’t know. What I do know is that it stinks. The energy and vigor Sheriff Arpaio is dedicating to this search, for a man who is not even directly connected to Washington, is, at best, disproportionate.
By the way, Sheriff Arpaio managed to find time for this endeavor despite his own legal woes, which include accusations of racial profiling and the failure to investigate hundreds of sex crimes. Did you catch that last one? The man accused of failing to investigate HUNDREDS of sex crimes, apparently has the time to investigate the legitimacy of President Obama’s American birth, a non-issue put to rest by both experts and many critics alike.
Now what possible motive could the Honorable Sheriff Arpaio have for ignoring sex crimes while fervently investigating the legitimacy of the president’s birth certificate? Well, According to Sheriff Arpaio, he’s not “going after Obama.” He’s just “doing his job.” Really? Which job? Certainly not the one the people of Maricopa County pay him to do.
While it is entirely possible that Arpaio’s motives are, as some suggest, simply to divert attention from his legal troubles, it’s curious that he should choose this racially and politically charged issue to do so. Curious indeed.
Then there’s Federal Court Judge Richard Cebull who in March sent out a racist email regarding the president. Judge Cebull later claimed to have sent it not because it was racist, but because it was “anti-Obama.” Here’s the joke:
“A little boy said to his mother, “Mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white?” His mother replies, “Don’t even go there, Barack, from what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark.”
Cebull, like all politicians who suddenly find themselves in a political quandary, apologized. He even took the “noble” step of calling for a review of his actions by the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit. I call “Cebull” on that. Am I supposed to believe that he has become the sort of man who no longer enjoys a sexist, racist, ribald joke and can make sound legal decisions simply because he got caught and apologized? Cebull. Cebull. Cebull.
Now, I will say that there is no absolute evidence (even with Cebull) that the actions of these politicians were fundamentally racist. After all, without some colossal screw up or a machine to peer directly into their minds, we can never conclusively know their true motives…but we can certainly infer them. And that really is the point behind a well-played race card.
As a black man in a relationship with a white woman and the father of an interracial daughter living in Texas, I’ve had a fair share of, um, “unsavory” encounters from, to be fair, both sides of the racial divide. However, racism isn’t just about hate, it is also about the abuse of power through the propagation of stereotypes and misguided ideas. And who in our nation has a better platform from which to carry this out than our politicians? Their actions send a strong and clear message about what is acceptable, and it resounds in the far less subtle actions of their constituents.
Take for example the teenage girls in, that’s right, Arizona, who posted a profanity-laced, racist rant on YouTube, basically calling Mexican immigrants stupid, crazy, criminal idiots. Now I find it hard to believe that these girls are fundamentally racist. An old dear friend of mine, a Catholic priest, once told me a true story of a priest who goes to see the bishop to tell him he’s lost his faith. The bishop sits him down, hands him a drink and says: “Nietzsche and Russell can lose their faith. You and I are too stupid to be atheists.”
In much the same way that a lot of atheists (not all but a good number) have never really taken the time to determine what it means to not believe in God, a person who can’t legally purchase alcohol is unlikely to have done the due diligence necessary to be a true racist. To be a racist you have to have lived a little, travelled outside of your tiny town, and had experiences beyond the provincial. Only then, after you deliberately choose to ignore evidence to the contrary, can you truly be racist. Until then, you’re just acting out, like a colicky chimpanzee.
I, however, think that the current political clime has created an atmosphere in which the young and the dumb (and also the old and only slightly more intelligent) think it’s okay to record and broadcast giggle-ridden and unoriginal diatribes about a entire race of people. I don’t blame those fifteen-year-old girls, nor do I absolve them of their actions…but I refuse to call them racists. If they should record another video in five years, one a bit more informed and less, for lack of a better word, idiotic, then I’ll gladly provide them with the label. Until then, they’re just young and dumb.
I’m an optimist, and I prefer messages of hope to dark and gloomy diatribes, so let me say this: We’ve come a long way even as we deal with the issues raised here. After all, this is about racist behavior towards a sitting president. But he is the president…and he’s black. That’s progress…right?
Photo: Haraz N. Ghanbari
The lights are hot and bright on the stage as the contenders for the Republican nominee line up behind their podiums for another debate, perhaps the final one before a candidate is chosen to take on Barack Obama this November. The back drop is the usual conglomeration of patriotic blues, reds and whites to an extent that would make Betsy Ross’s head spin as the debate opens with more fiery attacks against opponents and pronouncements of dominant political skill. Though each potential nominee pushed hard to set themselves apart from the rest of the pack with their opinions on illegal immigration and bailouts, and how their comrades in the limelight are inadequate or simply wrong, there is one underlying theme that binds the three front-runners and continually rears its head among topics of moral ambiguity: religion.
Romney, Santorum and Gingrich all profess themselves to be devout Christians, and though these words are not spoken verbatim, they all insinuate that their Christian values will be an important factor in their policy making as president. Although each sits upon a different branch of the Christian tree: Romney as a Mormon, Santorum the Catholic and Gingrich the soup of the day (that is, Lutheran, then Southern Baptist and currently a Catholic) they all try to remain consistent and agree on certain hot-button topics that are of great importance to their Christian voting base. We’re all familiar with the two issues that are most regularly discussed and debated within the political side-shows, that of the rights of abortion and gay-marriage.
The Republican candidates might say otherwise but the reason for the debate behind these two topics, the only reason they happen to be such a thoroughly discussed issue in modern America, is because of the religious morality of the conservative right. Saying that you are a Christian is synonymous in the U.S. with saying you have good values, and few would openly contradict this statement. There has been increasing focus on the idea of a ‘right morality’ which has all but overshadowed actual relevant political issues (how much talk do you hear about the devaluation of the U.S. dollar? Those are the values that should be taking precedence), and though it has not displaced important American concerns like the weak economy and unemployment, it has taken a fair amount of precious time masquerading as a truly essential subject.
They may flout their religious dogma as a reason for their election to the highest office in the land, but they still refuse to go as far as openly opposing the Constitution which clearly demands there be a separation between church and state. God help them if they imply the U.S. Constitution is faulty, that is akin to doubting the word of the Holy Bible; political blasphemy. So it is no surprise that Mitt Romney, a former missionary for the Mormon Church, would uphold the idea of a separation between church and state – at least in words. We have become complacent to certain ideas, one of them being that a presidential hopeful interposing his or her religious beliefs into their policies is not in defiance of the Constitutions creed. So when Romney says on his website that “he will […] champion a Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman,” many, but not all, of the American people fail to see the irony. Here is a proposed Constitutional amendment that is flagrantly unconstitutional, designed not to protect the rights of the people, which is its purpose, but to legally limit their freedom to live the life the Constitution is supposed to uphold. As Romney has been quoted, “Freedom requires religion,” it does not oppose it, it is inseparable.
These values are set before the American people as ‘good values,’ that is ‘Christian values,’ as if there were no other kind. As Romney said, without religion there is no freedom, which is the same as saying atheism is tyrannical and immoral. Atheism has long been associated with hedonistic ambivalence and moral bankruptcy. How can a person claiming to have no belief in God or religion be a moral person? The concept of morality in Republican politics has essentially become inseparable from Christian values, even when two of the key topics they habitually return to are by definition contradictory to the American belief and worship of freedom. The person who sides with biblical scripture and decides that two people of the same sex entering wedlock should not only be seen as immoral but illegal is said to have good family values, while one who openly denies having faith in Christianity would be much more likely to allow people the freedom to marry whomever they wish. This is the true irony behind atheist morality vs. Christian morality; while one is open and unrestricted the other is narrow and subject to ancient and outdated beliefs, yet the latter is the one a large portion of American citizens claim to believe as the height of righteousness.
Unlike religious doctrines atheism has no set rules. The Christian right sees this as a gapping target to fire upon. If atheism has no set of moral rules to live by, how are they not going to disintegrate into a tribe of self-servicing brutes? Yet the attacks never match what simple observation will show. The religious go forth with this attack teetering on the illogical hope that no one will question it. Yet long before Jesus of Nazareth was born in his manger, or Moses walked down the mountain with his Ten Commandments, the world, and people, were fairly similar to the way they are today. There is something called ‘rational morality;’ what is bad for the species is considered immoral on an evolutionary level, so something like cold-blooded murder isn’t going to make it onto anyone’s ethical rights list. Morality does not need the threat of punishment behind it in the form of eternal retribution. A person raised without religion is just as capable of learning right from wrong as anyone else, and what is considered right and wrong doesn’t have to be standardized by scripture.
Imagine an America where the president was not bogged down by ideas of Christian or other religious morality. When you get down to the nitty-gritty the foundation of religious ethics are formed by one simple concept: do whatever God, or a god, tells you and do not make him angry or there will be some kind of sanctions involved, usually severe punishment, i.e. eternal damnation. This means that if a god tells you that sexual intercourse between two men is wrong, there is no questioning it or you will suffer the consequences of a wrathful deity. Instead of being pro-life, a popular Christian maxim, Christian morality is antilife because it does not deal with topics in a rational way, but already has their ethical to-do list engraved (literally in some cases) in stone. It is focused on the afterlife of the soul, not on the reality of living human beings in the world today. Atheism does not necessarily mean a higher level of relevant ethical behavior, there are good and bad Christians and there are good and bad atheists, that is simply human behavior, but being an atheist does remove a great deal of baggage that allows for abstract reasoning and flexibility to an ever changing world.
An atheist president would have a wider and less cluttered view when it comes to these topics that the media and conservative politicians continue to have issue against. Homosexuality would no longer be an issue at all, nor any other, what we currently refer to as, victimless crimes. Imagine a president that need not waste time worrying about actions or activities that have no rational reason to be considered amoral and can instead focus all of his time and energy into the important functions of balancing a federal budget, lowering unemployment and raising the value of the dollar. In other words, effectively running a country. Atheism does not guarantee competence, but it certainly clears the path of befuddling debris.
In our current society anyone running as a presidential hopeful who openly admitted they are an atheist would not get far in the race, and certainly wouldn’t win any nominations let alone the actual presidency. That is not to say certain presidents in the past weren’t in fact atheists, like Thomas Jefferson who edited the New Testament to remove all the religious aspects in favor of a streamlined version of the basic moral preaching’s of Jesus. He, and potentially others, simply knew better than to openly flout their skepticism. To do so then, as today, could potentially be political suicide. In spite of the arguments that an atheist president would not have the ethical foundation that something like religion supposedly provides, the opposite appears to be much truer. Rick Santorum states in one breath that “my passion for protecting and preserving freedom is a gift,” while one paragraph later he begins an attack on gay marriage. How can this opposing view be justified? How can a purported love of freedom mesh with the blatant statement that one is opposing the freedom of certain individuals? And that based on a superstition that goes under the heavy name of religion. Atheism and unethical behavior have no correlation, while religious persecution is a definable fact of history. Human beings have a natural and learned morality that is apart from anything religion has to offer, not to mention much more open in its acceptance of certain behaviors that are of no harm to anyone. What the religious views of the conservative candidates shows is not that they have greater values than non-religious persons, but that it seems time that a true and open atheist steps forward to oppose them and their immaterial prejudiced views that have no more relevance or necessity in the modern world than the regular animal sacrifices that were so important in the Old Testament.
In the very early days of my religious zealotry, I invited a Southern Baptist friend to visit one of the charismatic services at my Word of Faith church. Like every baby Christian I was red hot for Jesus and out to save the world. We were on our way home, and I asked Theresa what she thought of the pastor’s sermon, and nearly swerved the car off the road when she answered with, “You know, I’m not even sure the Bible is true anymore. I mean, who says it is? How many different people wrote it? We don’t even know who wrote bits of it.”
Blasphemy! Those are words that strike fear into the heart of the Christian because they hit at the very root of their religious faith. If the Bible isn’t true, then what is? I was very proud of my reply. “Theresa,” I said, “If God is powerful enough to set the earth in motion, I’m pretty sure he is powerful enough to get a book written.” And that sad little argument against reason was powerful enough to keep me from considering her questions for another ten years. That is why I was such an excellent Evangelical.
That is why politicians like Rick Santorum terrify me.
In order to have a conversation with an Evangelical, you must understand that the root of every argument will return to one point: The veracity of the Bible. No matter how well stated, logical, or factual your stand, and no matter how much he may agree intellectually, if it is at odds with either jot or tittle, the Evangelical will have no option but to disagree. It is the fault upon which the entire house of cards is built.
Christians in general show a remarkable capacity for belief. Basic tenants of the Christian faith in the New Testament alone include virgin birth, laying on of hands to heal sickness, resurrection of the dead, and ascension from earth in a physical body, into an astral plane. Those tropes are X-Files enough on their own, but mean nothing without the firm, dogmatic belief that some 40-plus authors of 66 separate books, written in three different languages, over the course of 1600 years did so under the direction of God’s Holy Spirit, and were then translated into multiple variations without the first error in transcription or tone. From the origins of Adam and Eve in Genesis, to the reign of the Alpha and Omega in Revelations, the Christian religion requires unquestioning faith in every word written.
Apologists like Josh McDowell, author of the Evidence That Demands a Verdict series, use a mix of citation, reason, and religious fervor in their efforts to prove that the Bible is a divinely inspired book of facts. McDowell frequently cites 2 Timothy 3:16,17 which reads, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
In his book with Don Douglas, Reasons Skeptics Should Consider Christianity, he says of that scripture, “The word inspired is a translation of the Greek word theopneustos, meaning God-breathed. Thus, the origin of Scripture is God, not man; it is God-breathed.”
Well that explains everything! If the source itself tells you it is divine, then it must be. McDowell also frequently points to his own conversion (achieved while he was on a quest to disprove the existence of God) as evidence of El Shaddai. At least he is consistent.
It is rather ridiculous, but when you are talking to an Evangelical, you must understand that this is at the heart of every issue. The man Moses did not write that men should not lie with men as they do with women, God did. The man Peter did not write that women should be considered the weaker vessel, God did. The man Moses did not command you not to kill, which is a good thing, since the god he was quoting turned around and sent Israel into Midian with the command to kill every male and every woman who was no longer a virgin. If you are going to be inconsistent, it is very important that you be Divinely inconsistent, so that your shadow of turning might be explained away with the question of who has ever known the unsearchable mind of the lord, or been his counselor?
As long as it is God inspiring the writing, who are we mere mortals to question?
So how do you talk to an Evangelical about the Bible? Well, that all depends on your Evangelical. If your Evangelical is open-minded (yes, those do exist) then you might start by asking them what they think of how all arguments for the divinity of the work fold back in on the work itself. You might ask what outside sources also claim its divinity. You might, if you’re feeling particularly puckish, ask which of the modern translations best captures the essence of the original languages, and find out what they think of the modern paraphrases. You might begin to see a chink in the armor.
Don’t expect an immediate conversion. Studied Evangelicals know that it statistically takes seven individual exposures to the message of Christ before a non-believer comes to a point of conversion. For some sow, some water, and some reap. If you are the Evangelical’s first exposure to reason after a lifetime of indoctrination, it is highly likely you will do little more than stir up dust in the Damascus Road of their thinking. Be gentle. They honestly don’t know better. In fact, your Evangelical is going to think he is on the road to converting you.
Evangelicals, and many Christians, predicate their faith on feelings. The hymnal refrain “my God is real, for I can feel him in my soul (and I’ve always partictularly enjoyed Jerry Lee Lewis’s version of that one),” is good enough for most, satisfying the Bible’s requirement for blind faith. In Romans 10:17, Paul says that faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by the word of God. Asking for proof beyond God’s word is coming close to sin, verging on saying you require the physical to believe. Requirement of proof is proof of lack of faith, and lack of faith is proof of godlessness. You see the conundrum?
This is true, unless you are dealing with evangelism. If you are out there evangelizing, lack of faith is exciting because it means you’re doing something right!
Pamela Dean, author of Tam Lin, a masterful retelling of the Scottish ballad of the same name uses a main character to write of Romeo and Juliet. Her character describes them as believing their love is true because the course of true love never runs smooth. Because their love is star-crossed, it must be real. Evangelicals fall prey to this when it comes to dealing with non-believers. Because Paul said that the message of Christ crucified is a stumbling block to the Jews, who demanded signs in order to believe, and foolishness to the Greeks, who demanded logic in order to believe, Evangelicals are cow-eyed with delight at your request for proof or reason of their faith. If you are confused or slow to commit, they are properly preaching Christ crucified—just as Paul did. They will continue to pray for your eyes to be opened, and for you to convert, or they will pray that God let Satan have his way with you until you are forced to admit defeat and accept Jesus as your lord.
All of the above is why any politician with an evangelical agenda frightens me. You cannot reason with an Evangelical because reason is the antithesis of faith. An Evangelical cannot reconcile gay marriage, women’s rights, or a foreign policy other than Zionism with his conscience. He may see your point about civil rights, or understand your desire for contraceptives, or feel a little sorry for Palestine, but he will just shake his head at you because you don’t understand that God’s Law is above man’s law, and contraceptives are gateway drugs to sin, and that Israel is God’s Chosen People. And, that Evangelical will do everything within his power to force you to conform to his worldview, all the while sleeping soundly at night, knowing he is working toward the greater good and the salvation of your soul.
 Matthew 5:18 King James Version (KJV)
 McDowell, Josh, and Don Douglas. Stewart. “Introduction.” Reasons Skeptics Should Consider Christianity. San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1981. 15. Print.
 Leviticus 18:22
 1 Peter 3:7
 Exodus 20:13
 Numbers 31:17
 Romans 11:33-35
1I Corinthians 1:22—24
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Unfortunately, this all sounds all too familiar.
Religion is the one subject that can either engage you in conversation or have you walking away – far, far away. When the discussion of religion on a national scale is hotly debated, the people usually doing the talking always seem to refer to the Declaration of Independence and often the United States Constitution.
The religious right has gone as far as trying to equate from a legal perspective both historical documents. Their references to the latter have no basis in fact because the Constitution has no references to God and prohibits any religious test for federal office or the laws respecting an established religion. Many people, considered liberal minded, see this as plain blasphemy. The most important document, that represents our liberty and freedom of tyranny from England, is completely devoid of any mention of scripture that appears in the Old or New Testament versions of the Holy Bible.
The controversial nature of religion indoctrinated into politics worldwide won’t defray people of faith, but it will and has created skeptics. Regardless if America’s politics are wrongly drenched with Christianity, the Bible is still the best selling book in history, with sales ranging from 2.5 to 6 billion sold to date.
From political speeches to talk radio hyperbole across American airwaves, the document is frequently used as a source of religious reference. Now, our founding fathers including John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, collectively did not believe in the “divine origin of the Bible”, and thus along with Jefferson intentionally left out a direct correlation to religions of any kind. We can agree these are “unexpected consequences” which come from trying to do the right thing for one’s country. This would include above all Christianity. Or so they thought. The religious right repeatedly uses these tactics when their politicking and trying to get your vote or my favorite; when confronting the saga of infidelity and sex related scandals. What is stated in the document is precisely what gets misinterpreted when discussing religion in America. The Jerry Falwell’s of the world seem to hold on dearly to the terms “Nature’s God” and the word “Creator”. These are the nouns that are used in their efforts to describe some past utopian and independently Christian vision of America. These words alone are the right’s justification or proof that the United States is solely a Christian or Judeo-Christian nation. But that was not the intent of the framers when they drafted this ever important document. Besides what happened to the part which refers to the “separation of church and state? That somehow dissipates as religious rhetoric continues to influence our politics and sense of governing.
To put into context the true meaning of Nature’s God; it refers to the laws of nature and the laws of nature’s most silent God within itself. The framers arguably never meant for it to relate specifically to Christianity’s God of revelation. The paragraph that speaks to “unalienable rights” and that part where “all men are created equal” appears, things begin to shift directions to a discussion of continued enslavement of a people, who were being denied those very things. It does not say “God” it specifically says Creator. This supposedly is a direct reference to God almighty or so they think and continue to this day. After all 235 years since 1776, these fundamental words continue to be misquoted and highly misunderstood; depending on your interpretation of course.
Obviously, Jefferson wavered in his political and personal beliefs because he too was a slave owner. History tells us he also fathered at least five children with Sally Hemings, a Negro woman of mixed race and a former slave. What a scandal that relationship must have been back then, you may use your imagination on that but also confirm the facts.
Many biographers, noted scholars and social scientists across many lands have speculated, as to just where Jefferson’s views on religion would place him in history. Where would he fit in the society of the 21st century for instance? For practical reasons the belief is that; Thomas Jefferson considered himself a Christian, but a man of action and deeds, not just mere words. His own description of himself, was that of a Deist or as a person that believes in the existence of God, solely on “natural reason” without reference to revelation, as is clearly stated in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson ultimately concedes in his writings, that he was a Unitarian, also a person who maintains that God is one being; rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity.
He and his peers advocated some of the very things Americans still want; a more unified and centralized government. They of course write about the times in which they lived and how religion factors in the scheme of things, just as our founding fathers did in the past. As you may know, religion has no place in economic matters. For example, the mission of capitalism is not guided by religious dogma nor is it considered divine by any stretch of the imagination. Except for the likes of Bernie Madoff and corporate American companies, as politicians are bought and sold every 2-4 years.
Quite frankly, religion means many different things to many different people. Generally it is offered as a way to connect spiritually, to a higher being or a higher plane from oneself. The criticism of religion is therefore, in nucleus but not necessarily original. Its criticism is that of a microcosm of society’s tears, of which religion becomes the halo. Is this historical irony or possibly just contempt for what we call man-made religion?
Let’s be honest; “how many of you have typed in a comment in response to other comments made online regarding religion or politics”? I admit I have, plenty of times. We all have an opinion and a voice, basically we all have something to say and we want to be heard. A range of views exist in our overly opinionated American society, and they’re out there just to piss you off and provoke an emotion of some sort. Nine times out of ten it’s a defensive or knee jerk reaction, instead of a consciously and critically thoughtful response. Hey we’re only human born to make mistakes, right? I just ask that you know the facts, and you are not basing your opinions solely on rhetoric, supposition and those “only in America” emotions.
So many viewpoints, so little time to actually reason. Our virtual world provides us many avenues to remain simultaneously biased and anonymous, when publicly discussing subjects such as religion and politics. What is most important is that we dialogue and continue our conversations about these subjects as they relate to our lives and the world. But we can be less decisive and more tolerant of opinions that differ from our own. Or has America become so polarized that everything someone says is controversial, offensive or racist? The national discourse has really become ridiculous in the past decade; we as a nation are so divided. What would Thomas Jefferson think of us now? I wonder if he would understand and respect Barack Obama being our 1st African American president.
Where would he stand on women in politics and our elevated roles in society? What would he have thought about G.W. Bush using religion as a justification to go into war with Iraq? Just what would Thomas Jefferson think about these United States of America today?
I imagine that he would be overjoyed with the progress we’ve made regarding the civil rights of people and other areas of American life. I believe he would really get into technology, especially sites like Facebook. I can see him blogging like crazy. I also think he would be disappointed with the lack of progress we’ve made regarding how we treat each other as human beings on the planet.
Mr. Thomas Jefferson, man of the people, inquisitive and curious, was truly an intellectual, charismatic and a conscious yet critical thinker. The volatile mix of politics and religion has always been substantial, but in our 21st century lives the two combined have become extremely lethal and self serving. The doctrines of Christianity have many endearing qualities for people that follow the religion and live by its suggestions. It’s just that those that are most vocal of its tenets are drowning in hypocrisy of the worst kind. Behavior I like to refer to as the Hypocrisy of Democracy.
The legacy of Thomas Jefferson, his words along with his good and righteous intentions, will live on forever in the heart and soul of this great nation.
I will leave you with part two of his famous quote as intended in the infamous document the Declaration of Independence.
Dershowitz, Alan. Blasphemy: How The Religious Right is Hijacking Our Declaration of Independence. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2007
Kimball, Charles. When Religion Becomes Lethal: The Explosive Mix of Politics and Religion in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2011