Is frenzied religiosity a luxury that democracy, let alone civilized order can no longer afford?

Where are the brave, church-supported Christian activists of yesteryear?

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Hypocrisy prize winner: a compassion-, life-inspired faith now hawks an intolerant parade of death trips 

Though quests for religious freedom founded the USA, many years passed before a more diverse, tolerant America formalized true religious freedom – and the protection of one’s innermost beliefs. Since that endorsement assumes no one else would be impaired, nor institution defiled, this mission is clearly not over. Our original – and exceptional – commitment to protected choice came on the heels of endless European wars among sects and, relevant now, comes still with a fierce insurance provision. Freedom of religion mandates a defense of the legal system that secures that right – or everyone’s freedom withers. 

Apparently, fundamentalists ignore this justified absolute truth: when you violate other people’s rights, that puts your own freedoms at risk. To echo the line about Las Vegas, Bible-belters are free to believe whatever fairy tales they fancy, but they have no right to impose on the outside body politic crusades that deny voting rights or child-bearing rights, defy election outcomes, even demonize foes with different belief systems. 

If the “faith alone” evangelical crowd insists the Bible is literally true, without ambiguity (however impossible per language experts, multiple translations aside), even written by God, so be it. Mormon history favors secret gold tablets engraved by Angel Maroni (seriously) which John Smith dug up in NY. The Bible is packed with both suspect “miracles” and impossibilities (our sun never “stands still,” and the greatest whale gullet gags on a human body). But like many less-rational behaviors, as in love, passion, yearning, and imagination, religiosity has DNA origins for “meaning-making” animals, whether blessed or plagued with foreknowledge of death. Since religious zealotry fits authoritarian types desperate for clear, ordained rules, they go bananas when dissenters dismiss (or, horrors, mock) their sectarian claims. 

Admittedly, religion does curb flawed human nature, railing against pride, vanity, and selfishness, at times advancing civilization by talking up compassion, tolerance and forgiveness. But when feverish, inner convictions merge with ordained “absolute truths,” watch out – then fundamentalism menaces law, order, fairness, and empathy. Whenever one minority wants to lord over all, even pervert legality to shrink endowed freedoms, fanaticism invokes violence as its “right.” True believers today are anti-democratic because, like the irreligious Trump, they can’t tolerate losing ground, even being perceived as losers. Thus, they betray certified (legally “ordained”) electoral outcomes and ignite chaos – plus becoming hypocrites who violate the spirit (and letter) of their chosen messiah’s gospel. 

Why religion perseveres 

Religion, in theory, has at least three key goals: 1) to improve character, inspire goodness and deal with adversity; 2) address existence and provide reassurance that life (and death) have meaning; and 3) provide tribal coherence to overcome isolation and gain support during hard times. Yet, do these goals demand the heavy-handed Roman Catholic autocracy or topdown bureaucracies that cement dogma, then fundraise revenue for the missionary conversion business (vs. serving the entire needy community)? 

Judging by today, and notwithstanding great Christian charitable and educational efforts, can anyone confirm that highly religious are any more virtuous or generous than secular, skeptical brethren, outright atheists, or non-religious humanists who make terrific neighbors? Not me. So on Number 1, religion per se appears not to improve the overall goodness of a culture – indeed, now militant, judgmental, violence-prone Christian nationalists prove the exact opposite.

On Number 2, the pie-in-the-sky payoff, whether for good folks, the predetermined Calvinist elect or those damned to hell, Christianity promises that neither life, nor the mythic soul, ends with death. How reassuring – as no earthling wants our short lives assessed as bupkis (or nothing, Yiddish, related to goat droppings). But trustworthy evidence for consciousness outlasting death (vs. indestructible matter) is AWOL, “the bourn from which no traveler returns.” That demands a big leap of faith into the unknown (and rational humanists aren’t holding our breath, so to speak). That also turns insular religion into a fancy death trip lottery, with unknowable afterlife the chancy judgment day of a life’s value. Frankly, why not simply follow what most people do: value “life” in terms of what all can perceive in life? 

Worse still, evangelicals (following the apostles) are hung up on looming Doomsday or Armageddon and imagine some all-powerful sky god (or surrogate) will “descend” someday soon to settle every insolvable moral/existential conundrums all of humanity raise. In short, a wipe-out Big Bang of divine justice, awarding the “faithful,” punishing the wicked, and by the by ending space, time, gravity and the Super Bowl. Without even promising a new Big Bang? Or another life shot? A downer finale, with or without “heavenly bliss.”

Behold the death trip to end all death trips, but with this unintended, appalling, modern stinger: rightwing indifference to countless blunders by homo sapiens done during our cosmic moment in the sun: overpopulation, resource and species depletion, climate disruptions, global pandemics – plus racism, inequality and brutality. Exactly what inspirational prophets like Jesus opposed, even died for. If Christianity is not about tolerance, compassion, sacrifice and forgiveness, then what – a heavenly promissory note? 

Trump, in fact, is the poster child for gross immunity to these last four virtues, all blocking his tyrannical impulses. For him, and many religious fundamentalists (well beyond Christianity), life comes down to control and domination, especially when the paternalistic strongman benefits. Forget humility, compromise, intellectual/moral complexity, and respecting others – what all enlightened religions call “good.” Forget Christ’s radical innovation, “Love thy enemy,” for means transcending egotism, a Trump impossibility.

Further, on Number 3, the overwrought fundamentalist crowd must by design oppose the spirit of majority rule (when denying their dictates), strict Constitutional separation of church and state (for that stops their invasion cold) and what sets America apart – diverse, democratic pluralism. If the Bible taken literally covers all truths, then isn’t everything non-Christian fundamentalist since 1776 suspect, even demonically-driven? Evangelicals reject popular elections because results defy their sacred cows, like doing away with abortion, defeating gender rights, or slapping down good teachers, all strangely absent from Jesus’ entire teachings.

Death trips galore

Thus, not only do fundamentalists deny diversity (imagine, multiple truths) or mixing skin colors (if God’s not white,what moral glue remains?), but the core if wobbly American experiment to integrate the world’s tribes. For the rabidly rigid, either paternalistic, white supremacy rules or bring on chaos, anticipating the end of the world. Add avarice to church machinations and fundamentalism in league with crony capitalism has limitless domination dreams. Thus do radical Protestants (plus MAGA fanatics and greedy billionaires) join together to conquer nasty “socialists” who hate private property, Christmas, and open-carry “freedoms.”

So, if the end is near, just ignore needless pandemic deaths, dismiss (even support) the Kremlin overlord bringing death and devastation to Ukraine, minimize the hundreds of avoidable, domestic gun deaths or fatalities from police brutality, and pay no attention either to high US infant mortality from woeful childbirth services or avoidable deaths from system-pushing drug/opiate/nicotine addictions. And of late, pack the Supreme Court and jeopardize women’s lives by banning medical abortion. Aren’t women created to breed?

After all, where does the Bible award women control of their own bodies or, for that matter, basic rights, like voting, divorcing and owning property. The gist is that fathers command and everyone else salutes. And since the bloated (paternalistic!) federal government is today distorted into a malicious threat to Christian families and unchecked freedom, militants must arm to the teeth. Here’s another death trip with looming shootouts at not-OK Corral, with blood across front yards, school yards and downtowns.

No doubt genuinely good Christians, evangelicals and otherwise, are put off by the malicious tone and the embrace of this rampage of death trips. But such justified objections and public challenges are, unlike the 1960s, notable by their invisibility. Where are the brave, church-supported Christian activists of yesteryear? Right now, the unholy trinity of Christian nationalists, Neo-Nazis and white supremacists, committed to reload, not retreat, give the radical right a bad name – on par with reactionary, Congressional loudmouths foisting their own anti-government death trips. One only waits for the grievance tantrums to hit bottom and express their worst, then for 2024 to see if enough secular, rational adults remind the anti-diversity, anti-democrats who are in charge. 

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For over a decade, Robert S. Becker's independent, rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, history, implications, messaging and frameworks. He has been published widely, aside from Nation of Change and RSN, with extensive credits from OpEdNews (as senior editor), Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Beyond Chron, and the SF Chronicle. Educated at Rutgers College, N.J. (B.A. English) and U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. English), Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, then U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company he ran from '80 to '92. From '92-02, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. Since then, he seeks out insight, even wit in the shadows, without ideology or righteousness across the current mayhem of American politics.

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