Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What's the Big Deal, Anyway?

Before I get much farther with this blog, I want to stress that my main problem with the Religious Right is not that they are Christian. I firmly believe in freedom of religion and the idea that people can worship however they want as long as it doesn’t harm anyone. I don’t even care about the Religious Right’s specific beliefs. It’s their right to believe whatever they want. My problem with them is that they want to illegally change the government along Biblical lines. Their goal is to force the rest of the country to govern itself through a strict interpretation of the Bible, which is inherently unconstitutional, i.e. illegal. In other words, they want the Bible to be legally more important than the Constitution. This would mean that no laws could be made contrary to the dictates of the Bible, and the nation’s courts would have to use the Bible before the Constitution to determine the ruling of a case. In a nutshell, the whole purpose of this blog is to speak out against the Christian Right’s effort to remake the US into a de facto theocracy where the word of God is superior to any governmental law.

If you’re a Christian, a Biblically-based theocracy might not be so bad. But what if you’re not a Christian? What’s to stop the government from throwing you in jail for heresy? The answer is nothing, because the Bible says that Christianity is the only true way to know God (i.e. the only permissible religion), and if the Bible is superior to the Constitution, then it comes before the Bill of Rights. In the end, a government ruled by the Bible will become nothing more than a Christian Taliban, controlled by a small group of people who use the interpretation of an ancient, contradictory book to set laws.

Now, I seriously doubt it would ever get that bad, but it’s terribly important to maintain the separation of church and state within this country to preserve our freedoms. Unfortunately, many Christian Conservatives argue that the framers founded the US as a Christian nation for Christians and many in the Christian Right actually state that the framers never intended for there to be any separation. Not only is this false, but it’s a distortion of history. The idea that the framers came from a fundamentalist Christian background is laughable. The framers were the products of the Enlightenment, not a church. Benjamin Franklin was basically an atheistic scientist. Thomas Jefferson was Christian, but of the Deist variety (the idea that the world is a machine and god only set it in motion). He even published a version of the Bible that had all the miracles removed because he felt they were nothing but superstition. Like Jefferson, James Madison was a Deist as well and felt that God had no say in human affairs after the creation. The list could go on, but the point is, these men were not who the Christian Right claims they were. Furthermore, many early Americans (of European descent, anyway) were fleeing from religious persecution and the framers wanted to insure that the same thing would not happen in the US. As a result, they specified the separation of church and state in the 1st Amendment to protect all religions and favor none.

Then we come to the next major misunderstanding of the Religious Right. One of their favorite claims is that the separation of church and state is not specified in the Constitution, which is completely false. It might not say the exact words “separation of church and state”, but the 1st Amendment does say: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise, thereof.” Now, if the government had to adhere to the Bible for its legislation and judicial decisions, then it would definitely be respecting the establishment of Christianity, making it unconstitutional. The specified separation seems obvious to me.

Unfortunately, Conservative Christian organizations don’t appear to see it. For example, the Traditional Values Coalition, a major supporter of President Bush, specifies on the values page of their website: “Bible-based traditional values are what created and have preserved our nation. We will lose our freedoms if we reject these values” (click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to see it for yourself). This statement is completely self-contradictory because if the government only recognizes Bible-based values, then we limit our freedom to believe in other values.

Finally, Conservative Christians seem irrationally worried that there is a coordinated assault against Christians in this country. They feel that the government has forced them towards sin and immorality by supporting or refusing to legislate against issues such as abortion, gay marriage, etc. They quickly refer to the 1st Amendment, demanding that the government protect them by making the Christian Right’s values law. However, there’s nothing stopping them from preaching these values to their congregations—it’s a freedom guaranteed to them under the 1st Amendment—and they need to stop forcing them on others who don’t share their beliefs and stop blaming others for their sins. The major problem the Religious Right fails to see in their actions is that if the 1st Amendment is destroyed in favor of the Bible, then the government can dictate what they can and cannot say to their congregations. I seriously doubt any church leader would want that.

In closing, this is not a general attack against Christians or even the Republican Party. I fully understand that the majority of Christians are moderate and believe in the ideals of the Constitution and that the fundamentalist movement is a relatively small group (although it has grown enormously in recent years). Unfortunately, the low voter turnout in this country has allowed the better organized groups to advance their interests far above the others. In the last couple of decades, the Religious Right has been one of the best organized groups and has convinced a vast majority of their followers to vote, thereby skewing the results in their favor, which forces politicians to cater to their interests. Just look at the change in the he Republican Party. It used to be severely moderate, but during the Regan years it saw an opportunity to gain power through the high voter turnout amongst the Religious Right and continues to strengthen its ties with them. That’s not to say the Republicans are evil for it. I’m sure the Democrats would have done the same if they could have adjusted their agenda enough to appeal to the Religious Right. I simply want to stress the dangerous direction in which the Christian Right has pushed this nation. They need to stop trying to force their beliefs on others and realize that their actions could quickly erode their own freedom as well. In the end, theocracy hurts everyone.

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