Wading Into the Shallows, Part 2

The shallows I’m talking about are virtual cesspools of right-wing religious dogma that pollute the cultural and political landscape of the U.S., especially in the South (where I live) and the Midwest. The outrages being committed in the name of dogmatic religious myths are growing, as the faithful and their political cohorts in God’s Own Party continue their relentless assault on vulnerable people’s lives and our democratic traditions.

True believers – those Biblical literalists who buy into the Talking Snake of Eden, the 6,000-year-old earth/universe, the idiotic Noah’s Ark story, the coexistence of dinosaurs and humans, homophobia, creationism, etc. – are no doubt offended by the term, dogma. I’m sure they would prefer something more respectful, such as beliefs, or faith. So I thought about it, briefly, but I kept seeing images of blathering fundamentalist gasbags like John Hagee, Pat Robertson, and Franklin Graham strutting their shtick. And I thought of all the “Left Behind” rapture lunacy; and regressive “leaders” like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, recent Catholic convert Newt Gingrich, and Texas Governor Rick Perry. And religion-inspired denial of established scientific facts, coupled with intimidating pressure on school systems and teachers to present creationism alongside evolution in science classrooms. So my first thought was, “What a huge and obscene blot on the image of the world’s most prominent secular nation. Followed quickly by a second thought: It’s late in the game and those fanatics are winning! Just consider how much damage they will yet do in all those state legislatures they control.

Too bad the Constitutional separation of church and state that has been a defining feature of our nation is rapidly being relegated to a mere technicality, honored, if at all, in the breach more than the observance. The religious majority, aided by conservative courts, always seem to find ways to impose their 14th-Century values on the rest of us. And now that they’re on a roll, it seems only a matter of time until the ultra-conservative majority on the Supreme Court gets the separation-of-church-and-state issue clearly in its crosshairs. The majority of those justices are right-wing Catholic ideologues first, legal scholars second. They are of the same ilk as religious apologists who can rationalize any belief, regardless of the preponderance of disconfirming evidence. And also lawyers, whose modus operandi is finding plausible ways to cherry-pick evidence, to obfuscate, and to frame issues to support pre-determined positions. And they share the extreme political goals of the latest breed of radical conservatives. It’s enough to make us long for the good old days of the “moderate” Bush administration. So what we have here is a Supreme Court majority that’s an integral part of a well-organized right-wing movement that holds the “Holy Word of (their) God” above the Constitution. Far above. So when the chips are down, they will manufacture legal justifications for siding with the religious-right on church-state Constitutional issues. I doubt that any Republican these days can be trusted to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution.

Anyway, if the term dogma upsets the dogmatic, that’s too damn bad. When dealing with fanatics, no good can come from phony respect, especially at the expense of accuracy. And the fanatics who are bent on theocratic domination will only view any respect from the left, feigned or otherwise, as a sign of weakness to exploit to their advantage in their long-term war against all forms of enlightenment.

All that said, I am happy to acknowledge that there are still a great many non-fundamentalist persons of faith in this country who are tolerant and open-minded, including some long-suffering friends who have put up with my intemperate rants for years. And let me add that I reserve the respectful term “person of faith” for those believers who, like my liberal and moderate religious friends, support our democratic traditions, value cultural diversity, and consistently strive to be tolerant, fair and compassionate. I realize that the great majority of liberals and moderates, like most readers of this column, are people of faith and, despite our differences, I don’t want to alienate them. Now If only they will join us freethinkers in vigorous condemnation of the religious right and the threat it poses to Constitutional democracy. I fear their silence has the unintended consequence of lending support to the fundamentalist theocratic fascists, who constantly boast about the Christian majority in this country. But not all Christians are cut from the same cloth – far from it; and I like to think that liberal and moderate Christians are closer, in most ways that matter, to rational, evidence-respecting non-theists like me than they are to fundamentalists who support the likes of Palin, Bachman, Perry, et al. Like their cohorts on the political right, the religious right operates from arrogant, dogmatic certainty and is perpetually in attack mode. Bipartisan fantasies like those espoused by our president simply play into their hands.So does silence.

No one disputes that organized religious groups do much good; but in the case of fundagelicals, there is abundant reason to think their primary goal is proselytizing – saving souls from eternal damnation. After all, if you were totally convinced that this life was but the briefest audition for an eternal role singing in God’s choir in the hereafter, saving your own and others‘ souls would quite sensibly be your highest priority. But if you turned out to be wrong, you might have wasted a lot of time and effort, and also done a lot of harm inculcating children and impressionable adults with fears of hellfire and damnation.

In the unlikely case it isn’t obvious, let me go on record as saying I hold the religious right in contempt. Their primitive, shallow belief system violates virtually everything I value – logic, reason, sound evidence, and good sense. They proudly promote a simplistic abdication of our legacy of knowledge and understanding, a retrograde submission to natural tendencies that evolved to enable us to cope with the rigors of physical survival during the Stone Age. They dogmatically (not rationally or evidentially) reject the powerful intellectual and problem-solving tools of science. Too bad, because we didn’t attain our current level of knowledge and technological achievement based on our natural tendencies, but in spite of them.

To use a religious cliche, I’m well aware that a lot of what I’ve said can be classified as preaching to the choir. Except for this: far too many liberals/progressives underestimate the seriousness and urgency of the threat from the religious right. We liberals have been steeped in respect for the Constitution and its clear provisions supporting religious freedom, including the freedom to reject religion. We have a long history of tolerance and respect for differences, and it goes against our nature to attack people based on their religious beliefs. But we err, I think, far too much on the side of giving the benefit of the doubt to people who vilify us without mercy, who vocally deride and distort almost every value we stand for. Like our well-meaning president, we are far too nice and far too understanding towards a group that’s at war with the Enlightenment values that shaped our Constitution. These fundamentalists are bent on nothing less than gaining control at any cost and remaking America as a Christian theocracy.

So while I hate to do it, I must chastise my liberal and moderate friends, irrespective of their religious views, for being far too tolerant of the madness of the religious right. It is very late in the game, and the well-organized religious fanatics already have a lock on one of our major political parties. So, contra President Obama, it is way past time to abandon the suicidal notion that we can reason with them or work with them constructively. Instead, we must match their determination. How about we start by dropping any pretense that they are rational people or that anything they are saying is even worth talking about? How about recognizing that our overriding goal must be to do everything in our power to prevent them from expanding their power, before it’s too late? We can start by publicly rebuking them any time they express their crazy ideas and by exposing their anti-democratic agenda at every opportunity. We need to match their determination, go into attack mode on all fronts, and make our voice heard in the timid, bought-and-paid-for mainstream media before they completely own it.

So let’s stop acting like the current crop of democrats, stop treating brainwashed fanatics like they’re worth talking to. If you doubt this advice, please read these three credible voices of reason, three former religious-right insiders who are sounding the alarm about what’s happening to us. I’m speaking of Frank Schaeffer, John Lofton, and Dan Barker. And there’s a fourth, Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who may be the most important insider voice of all.

Okay, I’ll wrap this up. As I said in my previous column, I have no interest in debating deists about the existence of a creator-god/intelligent designer who jumpstarted it all but otherwise takes no active role. However, some readers might be interested in a small sample of the kinds of questions that cause me to reject Bible-based theism as even a possibility. The theism of the Abrahamic religions (and also Mormonism) goes far beyond deism and purely logical argument, making very specific and detailed claims about the nature of an anthropomorphic, personal god, mostly based on the alleged truth of “His” Holy Books. Now in this day and age it shouldn’t be necessary to point out that a great many of those claims about creation and the nature of reality are provably false, making claims of Biblical inerrancy ludicrous.

Believers also make unsubstantiated and highly dubious claims that their god takes an active role in the world, works miracles, and even “speaks” to them. The latest prominent right-wing buffoon to put his primitive superstition on display is Texas Republican governor, Rick Perry. Can you believe that he actually expects to make an impact on real-world problems by holding a mass prayer rally in Houston? It is becoming increasingly evident that prayer rallies are among the best ideas Republicans can come up with. They sure has hell can’t govern effectively.

Anyway, here are a few questions for Biblical literalists:

Why would the omnipotent Creator of the Cosmos hide himself and go to such great lengths to make his existence seem improbable?

Why would He make it evident, based on the best science, that the earth and the universe are actually billions of years old? For example, why would He distribute the fossils in strata so as to create overwhelming evidence for gradual evolution over millions of years? Why would he create a 6000-year-old universe and give it the appearance of great age (13.75 billion years, to be precise)?

Why would such an incredibly sophisticated Being choose to hide Himself and all evidence for His existence and yet deem believing in Him to be the most important virtue? That is, why does He make “faith” in Him a condition for eternal bliss and avoiding eternal torment? (If you listen to the Southern Baptists and other fundamentalist sects, an “eternal hell” is real and is where most humans are going to end up.)

Supposedly He knows Everything that has happened or ever will happen – every thought and action, from the most sublime to the most depraved. Now that’s way beyond mere sophistication! In fact, it is so ultra-sophisticated that it makes His petty concerns “recorded” in the Old Testament seem totally absurd. Doesn’t it?

Why would the book He wrote, or inspired, make the laughable claim that the entire earth was flooded at the time the Sumerians were happily brewing beer without noticing that they were breathing under water?

Why would His most strident believers be so conspicuously ignorant and bigoted?

As I said, these are just a few questions off the top. There are many, many more.

So in conclusion, religious fundamentalists talk and act like they expect some special privilege to be granted to their religious beliefs; but as soldiers in the cultural and political wars, they deserve no privilege to be protected from criticism. Everyone understands that democracy is meaningless unless it permits vigorous debate. But they have no commitment to Constitutional democracy, which is an obstacle to the domination they seek.

Finally, a closing quotation from Christopher Hitchens:

“Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”