Religious Right groups and their frequent allies in the Tea Party talk a good line about respecting American values, but much would change if they had their way. They seek not to restore our country to some Golden Age (that never existed anyway) but to recreate it—in their own fundamentalist image.
By **Rob Boston**
By arrangement with Alternet.Org.
An America rebuilt along Religious Right lines would be a very different place. And to get there, the theocrats among us first have to tear down some features of American life—some of which are longstanding. Here are ten things about the United States that drive Religious Right groups crazy:
1. Our history debunks Religious Right mythology: American history stands as a rebuke to the Religious Right. America’s founders established a secular government with freedom of religion and its necessary corollary, separation of church and state, built into the First Amendment. A “Christian nation” was not what the founders sought. How do we know this? They said so. Think about it: If an officially Christian nation had been the intent of the founders, the Constitution would prominently include that concept. It doesn’t.
Why does the Religious Right distrust our founders? Maybe because the founders weren’t fundamentalists, and they dared to believe that the Bible could speak metaphorically yet still contain wisdom and insight.
And those Religious Right claims that separation of church and state is a myth? They’re a crock. As James Madison put it, “Strongly guarded is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States.” Madison ought to know. He’s considered the Father of the Constitution and was one of the primary drafters of the First Amendment.
2. We support science: While polls show some confusion over issues like evolution, most Americans are big fans of science and are quick to rally around the latest medical breakthroughs and cutting-edge technology. Many religious people in America long ago reconciled their faith with modern science. But the Religious Right remains stubbornly insistent that any science that conflicts with its literalist interpretation of the Bible must go.
Religious Right activists hate science because it casts doubt on their narrow worldview—a worldview that teaches that all answers are found in a rigidly fundamentalist interpretation of an ancient religious text. To the Religious Right, evolution and the Bible can’t co-exist. They refuse to read the scriptures in a metaphorical or symbolic context. Since, to the Religious Right, evolution undercuts the Bible, evolution should not be taught in public schools.
3. America has a tradition of tolerance: Yes, we’ve fallen short of complete tolerance from time to time, but at the end of the day, most Americans believe in treating their fellow citizens decently, even if they have different religious or philosophical beliefs. But to the Religious Right, tolerance is entrance ramp on the highway to hell.
The idea that religions should strive to get along is dangerously close to the idea that all religions are on equal footing. This is bad, so says the Religious Right, because it leads people into “error”—that is, an embrace of any religion that’s not fundamentalist Christianity. Tolerance is ridiculed because it dares to suggest that a Unitarian, Buddhist, Jew, Hindu, Pagan, or atheist might have an equal claim on truth alongside a fundamentalist.
4. We have a secular government: To the theocrats of the right, secular government, secularism, and secular anything is the bogeyman of the moment. If you doubt it, just listen to some of our leading politicians (assuming you have the stomach for it). To most people, it just makes sense for government to remain neutral on theological disputes—remember the Middle Ages? To the Religious Right, such neutrality equals hostility toward religion and a “war” against Christianity.
Ironically, there is one place where the Religious Right backs secular government: Muslim nations. Those should be secular, of course—but only as a prelude to adopting fundamentalist Christianity.
5. The U.S. Constitution has endured: The Religious Right and the Tea Party claim to revere our basic governing document, the Constitution. So why do they treat it like a first draft? Just consider the list of amendments they’d like to add: pro-school prayer, anti-abortion, “parental rights,” fetal personhood, “traditional marriage,” the list goes on.
Why does the Religious Right distrust our founders? Maybe because the founders weren’t fundamentalists, and they dared to believe that the Bible could speak metaphorically yet still contain wisdom and insight. Consider this quote by Thomas Jefferson (from a letter to Benjamin Rush, May 21, 1803): “To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other.”
6. The nation has a legacy of freedom of religion: To the Religious Right, “religious freedom” means the right to use their religion to run other people’s lives. When it comes to groups they don’t like, ideas like liberty and freedom suddenly evaporate.
Consider the controversy over the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan and efforts to block construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Normally, once religious groups comply with local zoning laws, get the necessary permits and so on, they can build houses of worship where they please. Yet Brian Fischer, a columnist with the American Family Association, argued recently that the Constitution grants religious freedom rights only to Christians and said we can legally shut down mosques. Where does this appear in the Constitution? It doesn’t. Fischer made it up.
7. Americans support reproductive rights: The ability to control your own body when it comes to reproduction is the ability to control your own destiny. It’s a big no-no to the Religious Right. God is supposed to control your destiny. Who are you to interfere with His plans? Although most people think of this issue in terms of abortion, it’s worthwhile to look a little deeper. Increasingly, access to birth control is on the chopping block as well. (See attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and bills in the state laws granting pharmacists a right to refuse to fill prescriptions for the pill.)
Throughout recorded history, religious prudes have been obsessed with sex lives of others. They clearly have issues. There’s just something kind of icky about it.
8. Gay people live here: Where to begin? Not only will gay people not stay in the closet or become straight, now they want to get married! You can be sure that Bible Belt fundamentalists, who have the highest divorce rate in the nation, aren’t going to stand for that assault on the sacred institution of marriage.
The bile the Religious Right spews toward gays is unfathomable. You have to call it what it is: Hate. And as polls show increasing numbers of Americans backing same-sex marriage, it’s only going to get worse.
9. Most kids go to public schools: These godless hotbeds of secular humanism actually receive tax funding! They’re known to teach evolution, and some even dare to talk about how they human reproductive system works in Biology class. Since not everyone has the time for home-schooling, it’s best to distribute vouchers, says the Religious Right.
Here’s Tim LaHaye, author of the popular series of apocalyptic potboilers “Left Behind” on public education: “I have a pet concern, and I think it is the concern of everyone in this room; and that is we are being destroyed in America by the public school systems of our country. And it was Abraham Lincoln who said, essentially, let me educate the children of this generation and they will be the political leaders of the next generation. And, folks, we have let the enemy come in and take over the greatest school system in the history of the world.” (So, Tim, what do you really think?)
10. We fund NPR and PBS: Sure, the Religious Right and the Tea Party said they wanted to cut off funding to public broadcasting to save a few bucks, but in reality, they just don’t like the elitist, left-wingery of “All Things Considered” and “Masterpiece Theatre.” Snobs listen to and watch that stuff!
Don’t even get them started on the Muppets. Bert and Ernie have a suspiciously close relationship. ’Nuff said.
Of course, there are many other things the Religious Right dislikes about our country—consider women’s rights, for example. For all of their flag waving, some supporters of the Religious Right just don’t sound too happy to be here. I doubt they plan to leave soon, so we can expect they’ll keep working to change our nation. Be warned—this list is just a start.
Copyright 2011 Rob Boston
By arrangement with Alternet.Org.
Rob Boston is the assistant director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which publishes Church and State magazine.