Editor’s Note: The six Doonesbury cartoons at the bottom were from a series on the abortion controversy that were banned from many newspapers, including the ones that published this article.
“You’ve confused a war on religion with not always getting everything you want.”
— Jon Stewart
Deep in its subconscious, American religion carries the image of Christians being thrown to the lions. As a result, the devout revere martyrdom, and, lacking such persecution here in the most religious country in the Western world, they constantly feign fear that the satanic forces of secularism are threatening their faith.
It’s hard to imagine how a despised minority of disorganized agnostics, freethinkers, deists, atheists and the religiously apathetic could wage war on an overwhelming majority. The last president who didn’t call himself a Christian might’ve been Thomas Jefferson, and, during the past year, each Republican candidate has toiled mightily to demonstrate his or her piety. Despite the Constitution’s prohibition against religious tests for office holders, such bona fides are a de facto prerequisite for the Oval Office.
As a heathen, I find the sectarian climate in this country disconcerting, but I won’t pretend I feel persecuted, because I don’t. Nonetheless, social conservatism’s relentlessly theocratic ambitions make me uncomfortable.
Christians often ask why America’s religious obsession bothers unbelievers. My answer is we’re not worried that mainline Presbyterians, Methodists, Reform Jews and Unitarians might blow up an abortion clinic or lobby for the Old Testament to become the law of the land; however, we are afraid of the Religious Right and its constant agitation for a return to some mythical past in which America was a Christian theocracy.
Rick Santorum has become the foremost advocate of American Sharia. As part of the GOP’s Taliban wing, Santorum proudly proclaims he “almost threw up” after reading JFK’s 1960 appeal for religious tolerance and separation of church and state. He’s also the poster boy for conservative Catholic protests about the way liberals have restricted the Church’s right to restrict women’s rights.
The controversy over mandated insurance coverage for contraceptives demonstrates how low the faithful have set the bar for what constitutes victimization. In this case, the Republicans, acting as right-wing Christianity’s political arm, have heroically come to the rescue of the nation’s enormously wealthy and powerful religious enterprises.
The GOP’s church/state coalition is pushing policies that even some Republican women find offensive and frightening. This includes limits on birth control; physically invasive, transvaginal ultrasound tests for women who want legal abortions; attacks on amniocentesis as a potential cause of abortions; and the Blunt-Rubio Senate amendment, designed to restrict women’s access to healthcare.
Conservative Christian zealots are out of step with average Americans in many areas — for example, 98% of Catholics have used contraception. However, they inspire and incite the Right to intrude into wombs and bedrooms, because they believe that divine law should trump the laws of the land and the public will. To paraphrase conservative patriarch Barry Goldwater: Extremism in defense of dogma (e.g., opposition to reproductive freedom) is no vice.
Meanwhile, as globalism forces us to compete worldwide, American fundamentalists — including Young Earth Creationists who form a large part of the GOP’s evangelical base — reject much of modern science, from genetics and evolution to geology and The Big Bang. Social conservatives also oppose advances in biotechnology, such as stem cell research and cloning, that much of the world pursues without theocratic interference.
Presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman was years too late when he warned his GOP colleagues not to become “the anti-science party.” Due to the biblical mandate to “subdue the Earth,” many evangelicals reject any form of environmentalism, including mainstream science on climate change, which 97% of scientists accept. Belief in global warming is as fatal to Republican office seekers’ prospects as approval of a woman’s right to choose.
At a time when U.S. students are falling behind in math and science, Santorum called President Obama a “snob” for his desire to see more Americans attend college. Historically, scientific progress has been the enemy of belief in a “God of the gaps,” and crusaders like Santorum view education, including social sciences such as psychology, taught by liberal professors at elitist universities, as a threat to true faith.
Even more dangerous is evangelical saber rattling regarding the Holy Land. Many fundamentalists believe we’re in the “Last Days,” and a war in Israel is necessary for the fulfillment of prophecy. Oddly, they seem to lack faith in Jehovah’s ability to initiate the Apocalypse on His own, so many believe Christians (and by extension, the U.S. government) should be helping Him precipitate this Armageddon.
The problem with these fanatics is that they value the afterlife (for which they lack even a shred of evidence) more highly than the actual lives they’re leading. This form of Christian nihilism will become more dangerous as it collides with a potentially nuclear Iran, where Islamic fundamentalists are looking forward to Paradise just as rabidly as our own extremists, and are even more enamored with martyrdom.
So, why does religion scare us infidels? Most of us don’t mind God’s name in the Pledge of Allegiance or on the dollar bill, mangers at Christmas or chaplains in the military, but we’d like to avoid being caught in a cross-fire between Persian fanatics hoping for the advent of the Mahdi and their American counterparts crusading for the Second Coming. All in all, we’re uneasy about basing government policy on someone else’s mythology.
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