It’s been just over a year since the American public observed — many of us with morbid fascination and increasing alarm — the Republican primary debates of the last election. Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Perry and Santorum all pandered to their Teavangelical supporters and brought their religious and culture war agenda to the center of the national stage. With those debates fading from memory, it’s tempting to conclude that this flexing of muscle by the religious right was an aberration, swept aside by President Obama’s second victory.
But is that right? Have those passions faded? A YouGov Omnibus poll conducted this spring provides the answer: not at all. When asked whether they would favor or oppose establishing Christianity as the official state religion in their state, 34% of respondents were in favor (with 20% “strongly” in favor). You read that correctly: 34% in favor of establishing Christianity as the state religion, as in creating a theocracy. There’s more: when asked whether they would favor an amendment to the U.S. Constitution making Christianity the official religion of the United States, 32% said yes. This was a national poll; imagine what the numbers must have been in Alabama, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
Also this spring, a group of representatives in the North Carolina House introduced actual legislation — to my knowledge, the first of its kind since the founding of the republic — to permit that State, or any of its subdivisions, to declare Christianity its official religion. The North Carolina bill had a great deal of regional support, but was withdrawn by House leadership after a barrage of national criticism.
Americans living in cities and states where the evangelical influence is minimal consistently underestimate both the ambitions and power of the religious right. But these numbers are no surprise to me. In the course of researching my novel, Christian Nation (in which McCain/Palin win in the 2008 presidential election and Sarah Palin becomes President when McCain dies in office), I learned that the religious right’s base of support remains remarkably steady, virtually uninfluenced by the ups and down of national politics.
For over a decade, polls have consistently reported that 30-40% of our fellow citizens self-describe themselves as “born again” or “evangelical” and believe that Biblical prophecies accurately predict a detailed sequence of end-times events. Their leaders control both the vast Christian broadcasting movement and great swaths of the Republican Party at the precinct and state level. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimates that groups representing these citizens spend about $390 million each year to lobby the Federal government to impose their religion-based agenda on the rest of us. This demographic also has the highest voting record around — 85% of their eligible voters turn out for elections. They are not disappearing and, despite the recent successes of the marriage equality movement, they continue to win victories in the culture war they have fought for 30 years.
At the heart of their political agenda is a deep antipathy to the idea of the separation of church and state. An energetic industry of pseudo-historians, legal “scholars” and home schooling educators relentlessly promotes the message that church-state separation is a myth concocted by liberal elites to keep America from realizing its true destiny as a “Godly Kingdom,” a pious “shining city upon a hill.” For many of our fellow citizens, the establishment (or, as they would say, restoration) of America as a “Christian Nation” is a condition to the second coming of Christ, the most important thing that can ever happen.
So I ask you: how does this compare with the things that motivate your politics? A fanatical fundamentalist minority is a dangerous thing in any culture, and even the strongest democracy can become vulnerable when buffeted by economic distress and external shocks, such as major terrorist attacks. Everyone — mainstream Christians, and Republicans and Democrats both — need to keep a wary eye on our home-grown fundamentalists. The consequences of failing to take them seriously could be fatal.
Though it didn’t make many headlines, a legislative showdown on Capitol Hill last week can be seen as the latest development in the so-called culture wars. On the surface it would appear that this particular battle was won by religious conservatives, but a closer look shows otherwise.
The legislation in question would have allowed nonreligious chaplains in the military, a proposal that sponsor Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) said was designed to serve the large segment of America’s military (almost 25%) that is nonreligious. Currently, chaplains must be appointed by religious organizations such as the Catholic Church, but Polis said this unnecessarily excludes those who are “secular humanists and ethical culturists or atheists” and that nonreligious chaplains are needed to support the “brave (nonreligious) men and women who serve in the military.”
Some have suggested that secular military personnel in need of chaplain services should opt instead for secular counseling services, but Polis pointed out that the chaplaincy option has definite advantages. “When someone (in the military) sees a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor, it has a certain stigma that can be attached to it that doesn’t exists when you’re seeing a chaplain,” he said. “It doesn’t enjoy the same confidentiality that a chaplain visit does.”
The Polis bill was defeated, 150-274, with every House Republican voting against it. This may seem like a defeat for seculars, but such a view would be shortsighted. The fact that a bill specifically recognizing and benefiting atheists-humanists was put forward at all, and then garnered the support of 150 members of Congress, is itself significant, something that would have been highly unlikely just a few years ago, and it demonstrates the progress that the secular movement has made.
Moreover, Republican opposition to this effort revealed the ugliness of anti-atheist prejudice, a fact that will only raise awareness further and motivate seculars to push forward. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) aggressively opposed the idea of atheist chaplains, saying they would call fallen soldiers “worm food.” As outrageous as this sounds, it also ignores the reality that, under current conditions, dying atheist soldiers must face the possibility of meeting fundamentalist Christian chaplains who preach that they are heading to hell if they don’t accept Jesus. Unlike Conaway’s “worm food” absurdity, such proselytizing and threats of eternal damnation are not unknown in the military.
To add further insult, Conaway repeated the common, mean-spirited, erroneous slander that atheists “don’t believe in anything.” One must wonder whether Conaway realizes that there are atheists in his district and defending his country. Would he spit on the grave of Pat Tillman?
A Louisiana congressman, Rep. John Fleming, added to the insult, saying atheist chaplains would be “a mockery” and suggested they would only inflict misery on dying soldiers.
This may show that the American political arena is unlikely to be mistaken for an intellectual hotbed, but it also reveals something more. Seculars have lost a battle, but it’s a battle that would not have even been fought a few years ago. “Rather than dwelling on the disappointment,” said Edwina Rogers of the Secular Coalition for America (full disclosure – I am SCA president), “we are encouraged. We are proud that our issues are being more widely supported and that we are being heard and our issues taken seriously.”
Indeed, you can be sure these issues will not go away.
Back in 2006 during the Bush administration, when the same type of surveillance was under the apparent cyclical scrutiny, Sean Hannity became the biggest supporter of the policy. In fact on his show he excoriated those who opposed it many times. The Mediamatters mash up below is a classic that shows the hypocrisy. While this may be funny to some and upsetting to others, the reason this type of hypocrisy must be explored is because of the corrosive effect it has on the body politic.
Pre-Obama:The intent here is not to solely point out the hypocrisy that is being engendered by this recycled debate. It is to show how the American people are being hoodwinked by the media. One can make an argument on either side of this debate that is both plausible and constitutional. This debate however must be intellectually honest. To date it has not been on either side.
We know that you are against the NSA data mining. We know that you are against the NSA surveillance program. So the question is, where does the Democratic Party, what will you do if you are elected to power to make our country safe from the war on terror. Specifically what would your party support.
You have Pat Leahy saying that he doesn’t want an NSA surveillance program. Nancy Polosi, the woman who’d love to be Speaker, she is against the NSA surveillance……
Is it right to say that issues regarding national security be it the NSA surveillance program, the data mining program, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay that Democrats are weak on issues involving national security.
Our techniques are working. We’ve got the NSA program here, we have the Patriot Act program here. In light of this how close this was,it’s staggering to me that we are even debating the use of these techniques in this country even at this time.
Big Brother is monitoring your every move whether it be online or on the telephone. Let’s talk about why this story, why is it important to you.
Number one, this is America and as law bided American citizens you have a right to privacy. Number two, these actions by the Obama administration are clear, very clear violations of the fourth amendment, which prohibits unlimited search and seizure. Number three, the Constitution, it is our rule of law. If we do not respect and honor the Constitution, then anarchy and tyranny will then follow.
The problem is the inconsistency of those engaged in the debate, the lack of pragmatic logic on some, and the complicity of the media in misleading Americans. It is true that Sean Hannity is nothing more than an ideologue with a dedicated following for which he is the puppeteer. It is also true that most Americans do not take him seriously.
The ‘respected’ media however is not very far behind Sean Hannity in either being manipulated by stories or being a party to the manipulation of stories. The NSA story has been out since 2006. The surprise and outrage being articulated by the mainstream media is at best fabricated for ratings.
Using and manipulating these stories have consequences. They take all the oxygen away from more important stories. Why is there no continuous story of a job recovery comprised mostly of substandard jobs? Why is there no continuous coverage of the real effects sequester is having on the poor and the middle class?
Allowing the same parties to take different sides of the same issue for political gain simply allow the metastasis of misinformation. Who can forget the media not stressing that the Healthcare Mandate was a Republican/Heritage Foundation idea that under Obama Republicans ran from. Who can forget that the carbon tax was a capitalist/Conservative/Republican approach, trading carbon, that Sarah Palin and others then labeled cap and tax.
"We cannot have a just society that applies the principle of accountability to the powerless and the principle of forgiveness to the powerful. This is the America in which we currently reside."
WASHINGTON (Reuters, Raw Story) – A U.S. Internal Revenue Service manager, who described himself as a conservative Republican, told congressional investigators that he and a local colleague decided to give conservative groups the extra scrutiny that has prompted weeks of political controversy.
In an official interview transcript released on Sunday by Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, the manager said he and an underling set aside “Tea Party” and “patriot” groups that had applied for tax-exempt status because the organizations appeared to pose a new precedent that could affect future IRS filings.
Cummings, top Democrat on the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee conducting the probe, told CNN’s “State of the Union” program that the manager’s comments provided evidence that politics was not behind IRS actions that have fueled a month-long furor in Washington.
“He is a conservative Republican working for the IRS. I think this interview and these statements go a long way toward showing that the White House was not involved in this,” Cummings told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
If this turns out to be true, it may confirm a suspicion I’ve had since this whole IRS/Tea Party ordeal broke.
Maybe it wasn’t an organized effort on part of the GOP, but the Tea Party has definately become a thorn in the Republicans’ side, and maybe a few of them (republicans) decided to try and do something about them …
"Politicians who use the Bible aren’t necessarily interested in the truth or the complexity of the Bible. They are looking for one ancient sound bite to convince people what they already believe."
It’s like the GOP approves of the actual fucked up shit that is going on with the Obama Administration and would rather make up or trump up shit to try to smear them with.
Why aren’t they raging about this internet tracking and phone records shit the way they were raging about Benghazi?
The way things are supposed to work is that we’re supposed to know virtually everything about what they do: that’s why they’re called public servants. They’re supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that’s why we’re called private individuals.
This dynamic - the hallmark of a healthy and free society - has been radically reversed. Now, they know everything about what we do, and are constantly building systems to know more. Meanwhile, we know less and less about what they do, as they build walls of secrecy behind which they function. That’s the imbalance that needs to come to an end. No democracy can be healthy and functional if the most consequential acts of those who wield political power are completely unknown to those to whom they are supposed to be accountable"