Thursday, July 10, 2014

Wall of separation

I’ve always been a firm secularist—always. My parents brought me up to value the separation of church and state, so it’s no surprise I want a mighty and impregnable wall of separation. In the USA, it seems, that wall is about to collapse.

I haven’t published a post about the Hobby Lobby decision, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t write anything, because I did. Several times. But each attempt devolved into an angry rant, and I’m trying really hard not to publish such posts any more.

Fortunately, Roger Green posted about the decision and said many of the temperate things I said in my attempts. But I was curious about Roger’s take, as a person of faith, on the ruling being bad for people of faith and even religion generally. Roger’s now published his answer, “Why the Hobby Lobby decision is bad for people of faith”, and I think he does a great job answering my question.

I asked about it because most of the discussion about the case and its implications have so far come from fundamentalist protestants or atheists, and I wanted to see a viewpoint form the religious mainstream—the sort of thing I’ve been calling for over the past several years, as Roger notes. He added:
“I dare say some of us feel like we’ve been screaming but not being heard, because much of the mainstream press still uses the shortcut of defining the more ‘conservative’ elements of the church as the totality of the church. They use language such as ‘faith-based Christians’ or ‘Bible-believing Christians’, as though only a certain segment of us have ‘real’ faith or are informed by The Word. Ticks me off.”
Roger’s right, of course: Liberal and Mainline Protestant Christians have been speaking out and presenting their views, which are often completely the opposite of what the newsmedia report as being “Christian”. However, it’s the loudest voices that get attention, and radical right religionists are nothing if not loud! But they also say extremely controversial things (like, that being gay should be a crime, or maybe that gay people should be stoned to death—all of which well-known fundamentalists have actually said). So, we have very loud people saying outrageous things against the more measured, reasonable and rational tones of mainstream Christianity—is it really any wonder that only the radicals get covered?

Because the voices of reason are seldom ever heard, people—including politicians—get the idea that ALL Christians are radicals and they respond accordingly. This has many implications.

For religion, it means that mainstream people tune out of religion altogether. I’m convinced that one of the main causes of the rise of the “Nones”—people who report that they have no religion—in the USA is the rightwing radicalisation of religion. As I often point out, the “Nones” aren’t necessarily atheists, but instead are often people who reject all organised religion. That’s the radicals’ fault.

At the same time, this situation also encourages politicians to pander to the most radical elements of religion, much to the detriment of the American Experiment. The radical right has been highly successful in chipping away at not just the separation of church and state, but also the very idea that there OUGHT to be such a separation.

The radical right has managed to frame the debate as one in which their “religious freedom” is denied unless they completely get their way. For the moment, they’re focusing their rhetoric only on their opposition to abortion and to LGBT legal equality, but they won’t stop there.

The game here isn’t really that fundamentalists want to have their cake and eat it too—to be totally exempt from all laws the don’t like while also being able to dictate to government that it does as the fundamentalists order. No, what’s really going on here is that the fundamentalists believe they should be calling all the shots all the time, and what we’ve seen so far is only their earliest successes in their ultimate goal: To transform the USA into a fundamentalist Christian version of Iran, a “Christian” theocracy.

Dominionism, as it’s known, is at the core of most fundamentalist Christianity in the USA today, but even the few that don’t openly promote theocracy nevertheless demand the right to impose their beliefs on everyone else. “Religious freedom” applies only to them, of course.

So, from my perspective, the real issue here isn’t that fundamentalists and corporations owned by them insist on being able to impose their beliefs on everyone else in a manner that would be illegal for a secular business, it’s that this is only the first step.

The day after the Hobby Lobby ruling, prominent fundamentalists sent a letter to the White House demanding that, in light of the ruling, there should be a huge religious exemption in the Executive Order that President Obama will soon issue, one that would bar discrimination against LGBT employees by federal contractors, that is, companies doing business with the US Government. What they’re demanding is the right to discriminate against LGBT employees as long as it’s because of their supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

After the ruling, some companies also announced that they’ll refuse to cover ANY birth control, again, because of their supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Another step on the road to their goal.

The Hobby Lobby ruling has set off a new war over religious freedom in the USA and what it means. Can that phrase mean only the right of fundamentalists to do as they please? Or, does it mean the freedom from religion, too?

In the USA, the trend is clearly toward imposing the most restrictive and conservative religious views as the only ones entitled to freedom, and that can’t end well. Still, I have hope. The more that mainstream religious people speak out against the tyranny of the religious right, as Roger does, the better the chance of stopping them. But it will take all people of good conscience, religious and not, to vote against the radicals who would turn the USA into a fundamentalist christianist theocracy.

There’s still time to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and what it stands for, against the radical onslaught, but time may be running out. The wall of separation between church and state is cracking and crumbling; whether it falls or not will depend entirely on what the mainstream does—or doesn’t do.


rogerogreen said...

Yeah, what you said about what I said.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

And now I see that you said something about what I said about what you said…