In an earlier essay, I argued that we need to have compassion for those on the far right. Here, I will argue that the religious right in the USA is not only wrong for our country and wrong for the world, but wrong even in terms of its own professed belief in the teachings of Jesus. (You can have compassion even for those whom you believe to be wrong, can’t you?)
One reason that the religious right appeals to many American people is its struggle to restore “morality” to our nation. To me, this is laughable when you look at the long list (see footnotes at the bottom) of evangelical leaders who have been disgraced for a variety of moral missteps. Who could forget Jim Bakker (sex scandals and accounting fraud); Jimmy Swaggart (soliciting a prostitute); or Ted Haggard (male prostitute and ampthetamine use)?
Hey, none of us can claim moral perfection, but I believe in a kind of global or universal morality–a Greater Good that transcends religions and cultures, which almost any reasonable human being in any country of the world can more or less agree on. Among those, a few that I count at the top are: 1. Peace, nonviolence, and the valuing of human life on planet earth; and (closely tied to #1); 2. Environmental preservation, or the protection of earth’s ability to sustain life; 3. Education; 4. Care for those in need; and 5. Tolerance and respect for all–even those with which or with whom we disagree–and a refusal to judge others. (OK, maybe I’m judging the religious right here. So sue me. I did take an oath to defend this country from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and I consider the religious right to be one of this country’s most dangerous enemies.)
In my view, the religious right, with few exceptions, stands in direct opposition to all the above-cited “universal values”–even though those values are supported in the Bible, which is of course the touchstone of fundamentalist Christian evangelism. Here are some examples:
1. Peace, nonviolence, and valuing human life: “Thou shalt not kill.” (Exodus 20:13); “How blessed are those who make peace, because it is they who will be called God’s children!” (Matthew 5:9)
To be fair on this point, evangelicals fight for the unborn and the brain-dead (hopefully, in the future, their only supporters), yet when have you heard an evangelical speak out against our endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or even the Vietnam War? When have you heard an evangelical speak out against capital punishment, or state-sanctioned executions or assassinations? Rick Perry, as Texas governor, has presided over 234 executions–more than any governor in history–and went ahead with the execution of Robert Lee Thompson, despite a rare clemency recommendation from the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, because of doubt as to Thompson’s guilt. Perry even went so far to say, in his first nationally televised debate among presidential candidates, that he wasn’t losing any sleep over the fact that he might have executed an innocent man. Of course, it’s a well-known fact that former president George W. Bush–with the support of the religious right–pushed our nation into invading Iraq, even though the rationale for doing so later proved false. It’s also well known that Christian fundamentalists were behind the bombing of abortion clinics, the assassination of a doctor who provided abortion services, and the recent gunning down of dozens of innocent young people in Norway.
You will hear no mention of any of this in Sunday sermons by fundamentalist evangelical pastors. No calls to be reasonable, no appeals to the human conscience, no reminder that Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. Just, “Onward Christian soldiers!”
2. Environmental preservation: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15) According to Revelation, God doesn’t seem too crazy about polluters and those who deny climate science: “The nations were angry; and Your wrath has come. The time has come… for destroying those who destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:18)
I find a jaw-dropping disconnect between what might seem to be intuitively obvious–that anybody who loves God would want to preserve His (or Her) lovely creation–and what’s actually happening. The Republicans (the political arm of the religious right) have a record of adamantly fighting environmental protection measures at every turn.
3. Education: a bevy of quotes! Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are two of my favorite books of the Bible. Here you can see why: “For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.” (Proverbs 2:10); “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.” (Proverbs 3:13-14); “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7); “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!” (Proverbs 16:16); “He who cherishes understanding will prosper.” (Proverbs 19:8); “Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor.” (Ecclesiastes 7:12)
The religious right has supported–not the getting, but the gutting of public education, and has championed home-schooling, where parents can teach their children whatever they want–in many cases just the Bible, presumably with the more controversial parts (i.e. those that support progressive ideas, such as I offer here) redacted.
Could this help explain the average “red state” citizen’s woeful ignorance of science, world history and geography?
4. Care for those in need: There are so many references, both in Old and New Testament, to this theme that I’ll just refer you to a great list on the Internet, which you can check for yourself (see footnote #2 below). However one of my favorites from this list is: “They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.” (Mark 12:40) More on that later.
Need I point out that the religious right and the Tea Party have supported the evisceration of any and all social programs that help the poor, the sick and the disabled, in order to support a robust military budget, and to avoid taxing the rich.
5. Tolerance, respect for all, and a refusal to judge others: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1); “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” (Romans 14:1-4); and one of my favorites, the scene in the Book of John, where Jesus is questioned by religious Jews who feel compelled by their religion to stone a woman to death for adultery: “And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.'” (John 8:7) The following might be a direct admonition to Perry and Bachmann: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.'” (1 Peter 3:8-11)
On any number of points touched upon in the quotes above, it’s easy to come up with examples of how the religious right champions intolerance with its tendency to judge others, especially gays, and deprive them of their civil and human rights (e.g. marriage), while demanding that the rights of right-wingers (e.g. to have guns) be respected.
The religious right is wrong not only in terms of “universal values” supported by the Bible, chapter and verse; it is also wrong in terms of the U.S. Constitution, which calls for the separation of church and state. Thank God for that separation, because the world offers plenty of examples why we need to keep religions and/or religious fanatics from seizing political power.
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, for example, the mullahs, or religious leaders, have become notoriously corrupt and despotic. Shiite Muslim fervor keeps them in power and motivates support for terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is also by many accounts hopelessly corrupt, and a great supporter of terrorism. Islamists in Pakistan’s military and intelligence services have been undermining and sabotaging U.S. efforts to eradicate the Taliban and Al Qaeda, both of which took refuge in Pakistan after the U.S. drove the Taliban’s main force from Afghanistan in 2001. In most other countries of the world with religious governments, we find poverty and backwardness.
Going back in history, remember the “Dark Ages”? That was the time of the “Holy Roman Empire” and the Crusades, when the Catholic Church was the power behind all European thrones. It was a time of terrible hardship for the vast majority of the population, who lived in squalor, poverty, oppression, and superstition. Life expectancy was around 20. What happened to change that? Well, for one thing it was the Renaissance, with its emphasis on humanism, and the Protestant Reformation, which wrestled power from the Pope. Let us not forget the rise of science, which has probably done more to promote the quality and length of human life than any religion.
There are plenty more examples of how religion + political power = disaster, but let’s just say that–based on the evidence–theocracy does not seem to offer much hope.
Regardless, now evangelical Protestants seem eager to once a gain bring religious persuasion into the halls of political power. On the front page the Sunday Los Angeles Times on September 11, 2011, we find a story about a new resurgence of political activism among our nation’s religious right–predominantly fundamentalist and/or evangelical Christians, whose pastors and political organizers are gearing up to support Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry in the 2012 elections.
According to an August 15, 2011 article in New Yorker magazine, Ryan Lizza notes that Bachmann is a fan of Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-84), a proponent of “dominionism,” which Lizza describes as the doctrine that “Christians, and Christians alone, are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns.” Daily Beast political blogger Michelle Goldberg (see footnote #3) includes Rick Perry in the ranks of Dominionists, who she says believe that “Christians alone are Biblically mandated to occupy secular institutions until Christ returns.” According to Lizza, Bachmann is also influenced by Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001), who advocated “a pure Christian theocracy in which Old Testament law…would be instituted.”
We fight fundamentalist theocracies overseas, only to watch them grow in our midst?
God help us.
1. A list of Christian evangelists involved in scandals (from Wikipedia):
This list includes: drug abuse (including death from overdose), death from AIDS, fake miracles, sex scandals (including adultery, homosexuality, indecent exposure, sexual assault, child molestation & engaging the services of a prostitute), financial fraud & tax evasion, and assault & battery, including spousal abuse.
2. A list of Biblical references on helping the poor: http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/poor.htm
3. An article from the Daily Beast on Bachmann’s & Perry’s theocratic tendencies: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/08/14/dominionism-michele-bachmann-and-rick-perry-s-dangerous-religious-bond.html
4. An essay from the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, “Where Are The Compassionate Conservatives?”: