The Power of the Nones and A Look at a Soft Theocracy in the Making: When people don't vote, extremism flourishes
On December 26, 2011 At 12:01 am
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When I was a kid, I was out antique bottle hunting with my grandfather, whose family left Germany when Hitler was coming into power. "When they start attacking the queers, you know the country is in trouble," he told me as we dug through old dumps looking for treasure.
I was too young to know what a "queer" — using his vernacular — was, let alone why a country would be in trouble. It was only later in life that I learned that it was the gays who were first to be targeted as Hitler rose to power.
Personally, I don't like the political comparisons with Nazis that we hear so much from by right and left wing media. I don't think we are headed that way. But as I read, hear and watch the endless anti-gay rhetoric by politicians who tout their Christian values, I can't help but remember my grandpa's warning and worry that we are headed in a troublesome era where theocratic values are embraced more than our humanity.
In a theocracy, there's no room for humanity.
A theocracy is not necessarily run by clerics. It can be a form of government that is based on religious beliefs and religious text.
In a theocracy, there is no room for humanity, for compassion. It's about "God's will" and "absolute" morals.
We live in a country where the word "war" is tossed about so much that it has little meaning. There's a War on Christmas. A War on Drugs. Obama's supposed War on Christianity. And then there's real wars, where fathers grieve over their little daughters, whose legs have been blown off. Where mothers cry over their dead sons. Where lives are snuffed out over political and religious ideology. Where rotting corpses, ruins and destroyed dreams are nothing but the clinical, heartless term, "collateral damage."
In Iraq alone, over 100,000 of its civilians have died, thanks to Bush's war, a war in which the Pentagon penned Bible verses on intelligence reports. In a country once known for its diversity and religious tolerance, sectarian violence in Iraq now pits neighbor against neighbor. Over 4,000 American military members were killed, and over 100,000 wounded. Granted, Saddam Hussein was a despicable leader, but the bloodshed to remove him in an unwarranted war, characterized by President Bush as the Biblical battle of "Gog and Magog," is appalling. With very little fanfare or concern, the war was declared over earlier this month. It's barely over; the war in Afghanistan continues; and talk of a war in Iran begins with little regard to its potential cost to humanity.
The terror, suffering and scars of war are rarely talked about in American politics or media. It's a game of drones and smart bombs, not about the real pain and agony that war entails. Painted on this apathetic background is a different kind of "morality," a morality with little pity or empathy. It's a morality that hates gay people, cares more about zygotes than human dignity, discards science to promote creationism, doesn't give a damn about pollution and environmental degradation, and obsesses over words like Christmas.
One Nation Under the Religious Right's God.
Over the Christmas holiday, I watched the One Nation Under God video put out by a religious right initiative called "Champion the Vote" that's sponsored by a well-funded far right Christian group called United in Purpose. The goal of Champion the Vote is to "mobilize" Christian voters and to register 5 million Christians who are currently unregistered to vote in order to sway the elections in 2012 so that candidates having a "Biblical worldview" will be elected.
While I'll go into more detail about the One Nation Under God video in a future article or video, I can summarize its message as follows: Government must reflect the will of God.
God, of course, is the "Judeo-Christian" concept that right wing Christians define.
Throughout the video presentations, the message was hammered in repeatedly that Christians who do not vote the "Biblical worldview" will be held accountable for the destruction of America in the afterlife and that in this life, America is doomed unless government adheres to the "Biblical worldview." Subtly woven into the presentations was the notion that the Christian majority in the country has been marginalized, discriminated against and silenced by secularists. Not a word was mentioned about the human cost of war or crimes against humanity initiated by their evangelical favorite, George W. Bush. There was nothing in it about compassion, peace or of social justice.
The DVD presentation was book-ended by two talks by David Barton, the Texas evangelist known for his version of Christian nationalist history. The fast-talking Barton made it sound like the United States was formed by pastors who consulted thousands of scriptures and sermons to create a Christian nation. Another thing he claimed in the DVD presentation was that statistically, "pro-lifers" were predictable because they consistently voted for politicians who endorse "the right kind of economic policies."
Sandwiched between Barton's presentations were talks by Newt Gingrich who complained that he was sick and tired of secular humanism, an atheistic worldview and a lack of godly education and prayer in the education system; Bob McEwen, who implied that the teaching of evolution is destroying America because it creates generations of people who rely on government instead of God; Lila Rose who characterized Planned Parenthood as an evil, corrupt baby-killing organization that protects child sex predators; James Dobson who fretted that America is doomed because of gay rights and abortion, and others. Separation of church and state is a myth, the presenters said over and over again, indicating that God is angry and ready to destroy the country because it was not operating on Biblical principles.
Biblical Economics and Justice: Obey and God Provides.
Underlying this is a form of prosperity gospel. America's economic fortune and blessings will be restored if only the people and government turn to Christianity and the Bible, the speakers suggested. If America subscribes to a "Biblical worldview," economic prosperity will follow. Man-made policies to turn around the economy are basically mute points under this form of prosperity gospel — so long as America "returns" to its Christian roots, God will take care of the rest.
Central to these Christian roots, in the worldview of Barton and the others on the One Nation Under God DVD, is to ban abortion and to "protect life from conception to natural death." This is "Biblical economics" because if abortion is banned (and gays denied civil rights and secularism marginalized), then God will bless America with economic prosperity and "exceptionalism."
After watching the DVD, I finally understood why all the Republican politicians running on a "we'll cut expenses and restore the economy" platform have been focusing so heavily on the social issues that Christian right activist groups like the Family Research Council and the American Family Association constantly say are the source of America's ills. In the "Biblical worldview," if the social "sins" are replaced by Christian morality, then God will provide.
In the 2010 mid-term elections, the religiousness of voters may have played a large part in the Republican majorities that won state and federal seats. As I've called it before, the Tea Party is nothing but the religious right in drag. As a consequence, we've seen Tea Party dominated state legislatures introducing and passing a record number of anti-women, anti-choice bills since taking office this year. Ending abortion is the cornerstone of the "Biblical worldview" endorsed by Christian right leaders. Gays have fared better on a national level, with the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. However, the religious right wants leaders who will reverse any civil rights gains that the LGBT community has gained. They also want to cut any individual "dependency on government" and to replace that dependency on God. Churches, rather than government, would help the poor and struggling, thus having an opportunity to evangelize and "save" them.
Michigan is an example of what will happen if extremists take over all three branches of government — the administrative, legislative and judicial bodies. As chronicled by John Rummel in an article published at People's World, 90 bills curtailing the rights of labor and many more attacking democratic rights have been introduced. A retroactive lifetime limit on welfare was enacted; unemployment benefits were slashed. Bullying in the name of religion is fine, if the victim is gay or transgendered. There is no check or balance as these types of bills are railroaded through.
Michigan is a snapshot of what can happen on a federal level.
Democracy vs. Theocracy.
On December 24, Frank Schaeffer, author and former evangelical leader; Michelle Goldberg, Senior Contributing Writer for The Daily Beast and author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism; and Melissa Rogers, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, appeared on Al Jazeera's Inside Story to talk about the theocratic leanings of the GOP. (Disclosure: I was once a Republican but quit due to the increasing influence of Christian fundamentalists.) The video is 25 minutes but well-worth watching (it's embedded below).
According to Frank Schaefer, the 2012 elections may be shaped by religion more than anything. He cited the evangelical takeover of the Republican party and its focus on social issues and Christian Zionism — the notion that the Palestinian people are an "invented people" and that in end times eschatology, the Bible dictates that the West Bank must be occupied by Israel so that Jesus Christ can return to earth. Religion, he says, drives the GOP base more than politics.
Goldberg pointed out that the Christian right is more interested in Christian nationalism, not "pro-family" values, citing the vote for Ronald Reagan, who had been divorced, and evangelical right's willingness to forgive Newt Gingrich's failed marriages.
Schaefer noted that for the general American population, the right wing evangelical positions espoused by the Republican party will not play well, but because the evangelicals have taken over one of the only two major parties in the United States, theology will bog down the system and shape our politics in terms of social issues and foreign policy.
George W. Bush was good about not demonizing Muslims, Goldberg observed, which was a quality that is non-existent in the current wave of evangelical voters and politicians who claim that Muslims are trying to impose Sharia law upon the nation. Rogers noted that Romney has pushed back to a degree against the anti-Muslim sentiment.
Schaefer found the anti-Muslim, fear of Sharia law arguments quite ironic. "Here in the United States, we have religious groups — right wing religious groups, evangelical and Roman Catholic — who are pushing to, in a way, rescind the Constitution of the United States and replace it with what they call 'Biblical law' when it comes to abortion or gay marriage or even foreign policy [...] in terms of Israel," suggesting that these far right Christians want to bring a soft theocracy on America.
Rogers said that she hopes that Americans will see through the agenda of the religious right and understand that one of the greatest aspects of America is that it is based on civil law, not religious law. I share her hope.
The Power of the Nones.
Gallup reported this year that 78 percent of Americans identify as Christian, but I'm of the opinion that for those who identify as "Christian," many are non-churchgoers or "Christmas and Easter churchgoers" who say they are Christian because it is culturally expected. I suspect that many of these Christians embrace more of a humanistic version of Christianity and do not want a third world war in the Middle East to hasten the return of Jesus Christ. The extremists who want to dominate governance are a minority, yet they are incredibly organized, well-funded and fueled by passion. Whether Republican, Democrat or somewhere in between, the majority of us who do not share religious extremist views lack passion and/or organization while extremism is brewing. Many don't vote. Or if they do, they only show up during the presidential elections and ignore the mid-terms, where most of the extremism can take hold and flourish on a state and Congressional level.
Gallup's poll broke down American religious affiliation as follows:
— Protestant/other Christian: 52.5 percent
— Catholic: 23.6 percent
— Mormon: 1.9 percent
— Jewish: 1.6 percent
— Muslim: 0.5 percent
— Other non-Christian religion: 2.4 percent
— None/atheist/agnostic: 15 percent
— No response: 2.5 percent
I bolded the 15 percent of nones/atheist/agnostics because I think it is an ignored segment of the American voting population. It's a demographic that can become powerful, so long as Christian nationalist extremism is stopped. It's a demographic that can roll up its sleeves and make a difference by employing rational thinking, education, science and genuine empathy, rather than imposing a worldview that's dependent upon apocalyptic war and a deity that will drop from the sky and fix everything. There are more nones than Mormons, Jews, Muslims and other non-Christian religions combined. If the Christian extremists can "mobilize" 5 million new voters, why can't the nones and religious minorities and "mainline" Christians?
Look, we nones have power. It's time to use it.
Not only will we protect ourselves from religious extremism, but we will protect religious freedom for those who chose to be religious but do not subscribe to the views of the Christian nationalists.
The first step is to register to vote. The next is to actually get off our duffs, vote and get educated and involved. Apathy will allow religious political extremism to flourish. The fruits of the 2010 mid-term elections demonstrate this.
If you're not registered and do not want to live under "Biblical law" as interpreted by evangelicals, then it's time to visit USA.gov and get registered right now. We can all make a difference.
Gays and abortion and humanists/atheists/"nones" are not going to "destroy America" as we know it. Extremism and a "religiously moral" denial of our humanity — that part of us that is rational and compassionate — will.