Wednesday, March 22, 2006
The Religous Right: Where Are We Headed?
One of the very first posts we wrote was about our growing concern over the danger of mixing religion with politics. In that post, we called attention to a speech by Fritz Stern, a refugee from Hitler's Germany and scholar of European history, who's devoted a lifetime to analyzing how the Nazi barbarity became possible.
In his acceptance speech on receiving the Leo Baeck Medal Stern said:
In the time since we wrote that post, the religious right in this country has demonstrated time and again that the lessons of Germany -- and Lebanon, Northern Ireland, Rawanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Sudan -- are utterly lost on them.
"We who were born at the end of the Weimar Republic and who witnessed the rise of National Socialism—left with that all-consuming, complex question: how could this horror have seized a nation and corrupted so much of Europe?
..."Hitler himself, a brilliant populist manipulator who insisted and probably believed that Providence had chosen him as Germany’s savior, that he was the instrument of Providence, a leader who was charged with executing a divine mission. God had been drafted into national politics before, but Hitler’s success in fusing racial dogma with a Germanic Christianity was an immensely powerful element in his electoral campaigns. Some people recognized the moral perils of mixing religion and politics, but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured his success, notably in Protestant areas."
While RSR is deeply concerned about the growing political power of the religious right, we remain convinced that the country's moderate majority has it within its power to prevent the worst from happening -- if we take the threat seriously and organize actively and effectively to counter the threat.
Moreover, we see reason for optimism in the rulings by Judge Cooper in the Cobb County textbook sticker case and Judge Jones in the Dover Intelligent Design case. We see it in the school board election in Dover where voters threw out the entire school board and elected a moderate, pro-science board in their place. In the vote by the Ohio school board to remove intelligent design inspired "critical analysis" language from the curriculum. And in the decision of the El Tejon school board to end a class that proselytized school children for creationism and intelligent design.
Here in Kansas, we are beginning to sense that the ultra-right's dominance of the state school board may come to an end with the November election.
Public figures such as former President Jimmy Carter and former Missouri Senator John Danforth -- both well-known for their religious beliefs -- have written and spoken publicly about the growing danger of mixing religion with politics.
The popularity of President George Bush, who has said that God told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, is at an all-time low. Political professionals expect that the Republican Party, increasingly identified as the party of religious fundamentalists, will pay a political price for the failure to find WMD in Iraq, the steady drift toward civil war in that country, the incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina, the Medicare Drug Plan mess, the Dubai Ports deal, the culture of corruption gripping the party, the outing of Valerie Plame, the... well, you get it.
This week, Kevin Phillips' new book, American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century went on sale, and it's being widely discussed all around the blogosphere. Phillips writes that "some 45 percent of American Christians (especially evangelicals and fundamentalists) believe that we are heading for Armageddon. This undoubtedly translates into 50 to 60 percent of Republicans, which helps to explain why so many GOP voters in 2003 favored a 'good versus evil' invasion of Iraq."
Opinion on the book ranges from the pessimistic view expressed by Michelle Goldberg, who writes that the book provides "a historical framework to think about the looming, ambient sense of crisis and breakdown that seems to pervade everything these days. Things in America certainly seem very bad to me, but it can be hard to grapple with the extent of our peril without falling into the secular version of Left Behind apocalypticism."
At the other end of the spectrum, Kevin Drum says that he can't make up his mind "whether Kevin Phillips was a visionary with an important wakeup call or a once-brilliant analyst who had let Bush hatred turn him into an obsessive crank."
Red State Rabble must admit that these are the very questions that have preoccupied us over the past year as we followed the controversy over science education. At various times, and in various moods, we've succumbed to each of these views in turn.
That's why we'd like to open this discussion to our readers. We'd like to know what you think. Is the danger of the religious right overblown or underestimated? Can a minority that believes that Armageddon is just around the corner really take over the largest, most powerful democracy in the world? If the religious right is a danger, what must be done to prevent them from seizing the reins of government. If moderates unite and take action, can we prevent the worst from happening, or is it already too late?
We can't help but think the decisions the American people make in the coming months will be crucial. Our nation has worked diligently to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue nations. Will we now, out of lethargy, turn the world's largest nuclear arsenal over to people who believe that the sight mushroom clouds blooming in the atmosphere above the world's cities is a welcome harbinger of the coming rapture?
Many in Fritz Stern's generation spent their lives pondering how the Nazi horror could have been allowed to happen. Will ours end up doing the same?