What self-righteous, faith alone sect won’t inevitably assert its moral superiority over others?
What happens when zealous believers, despite talking up redemption and channeling “God’s will,” turn nasty and reactionary? Despite its charitable good works, too much of organized religion has morphed into special interest political lobbies, insisting that its ordained values be imposed nationally. That ironically makes a highly-protected freedom (of religion) a menace to an open, sharing, tolerant society.
The “free exercise of religion,” especially by highly politicized true believers, now endangers not just collective freedom but the necessary separation of church and state. Controlling abortion bans, plus assaulting gays, gay marriage and transgender rights, if not “outsider” immigration, mirror the unholy push to Christianize America.
Curiously, considering that religious freedom inspired European newcomers, a legitimate personal right of late morphs into a threat to national citizen rights, unsurprising when one sect commandeers the political and legislative sphere. What the Pilgrims sought wasn’t only religious freedom but the right to determine their own fate (property, geography, employment). What the later, wiser Founders elevated was an enlightened chain of being that linked freedom, secular democracy and the exclusion of a state religion. Rightwing culture wars are only the latest effrontery by which moral superiority is asserted over immoral “inferiors.” That way lies theocratic fascism.
Take abortion rights, that for fifty years awarded parents the sovereignty over when or if to have children. Yet, no fellow citizen is directly injured when procreation remains a (personal, medical) right, as with access to safe medications or birth control. What civil, fair-minded society can afford the downsides of fundamentalism where, because its inner beliefs say so, general rights are crushed (and lives put at jeopardy)? No one, short of a theocracy where self-ordained sects channel “God’s will,” should ever be forced to reproduce.
Inherited traditions already display how religious over-reach controls collective choices. Most states still have moralistic “Sunday Blue Laws” that restrict or prohibit the sale of alcohol, business transactions (like vehicle sales), even limits on hunting. Per Wikipedia, the “U.S. Supreme Court has held [Sunday] blue laws as constitutional numerous times” in part to guarantee “the free exercise of religion.” Except for those with different sabbath days. In Pennsylvania, Sunday hunting is prohibited except when murdering “foxes, crows and coyotes.” In Florida, far worse religious extremism erupts into “Don’t Say Gay” or demolishing student, library and educational freedoms.
What “Christian” nation?
Further, drumbeaters beyond Christian nationalists declare the U.S. was “founded” and ordained by God as a “Christian nation” by devout Christians, all evidence to the contrary. Later Utah creators aside, the Founders fell over backwards to demythologize the Constitution of god-bothering. Sunday incidentally became the Christian sabbath because that day was favored by the Roman Empire for celebrations. Not by the Bible, merely specifying the first day of the week.
Once self-righteous fundamentalists deemed politics too tawdry for their divine interventions (before ‘80’s), and politics was a healthier scrum of less than godly interests in dubious battle. Now, having far too much House influence, Bible-belters demand a Christianized America, imbued with fire and brimstone rhetoric. What a spiritual falloff when good, Jesus-like Christians should instead start a crusade to battle barbaric gun violence that slaughters children! What ever happened to courageous, church-driven activism, anti-Vietnam and pro-civil rights, in the 1960’s?
The longer that theocratic control freaks hold sway, the more fuel added to wound the free spirit of true democrats. Thus the latest, bad faith, lawless, NYC Congressional stunt provides cover for their indicted messiah. Perhaps Jim Jordan listens to fellow nutcases, God Will Kill Trump’s Persecutors says Lance Wallnau, Christian Nationalist ‘Prophet.’ A Trumpworld source told Rolling Stone this week, echoing fake Trumpian, messianic hypocrisy: “It’s kind of a Jesus Christ thing… [Trump:] ‘I’m absorbing all this pain from all around from everywhere so you don’t have to.’” Jesus, wherever he is, wouldn’t only weep: he’d leave such churches, join the Never Trumpers, and rail against damnable sacrilege.
It’s the religion, stupid!
Fundamentalist Protestants do not alone endanger American freedoms. Roman Catholicism remains reactionary on sex and marriage (opposing birth control, abortion and divorce), on full gay rights, on women as priests, still unable to cleanse itself of the stink of priestly sexual predation. Historically, the Vatican acted as reactionary force, insensitive to the less powerful, workers’ rights, the Holocaust, plus defending dictatorships, slavery, and imperialism. The Russian Orthodox church not only vigorously backs Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine but won’t challenge his ceaseless violations of civil and human rights.
Once upon a time, religious texts taught behavioral control that served tolerance, stability and respect for others, at least impugning the worst sins: pride, wrath, envy, and false witness. That may well have discouraged theft, avarice, mugging, violence, even murder. Impressive respect for individual freedom blossomed after the Protestant Reformation, as the focus on an individual’s relationship with divinity spurred today’s secular individualism, rugged and otherwise. That life is sacred echoes all major religions, impacting our commitment to protect myriad earthly inhabitants. That a virtuous life requires giving to others, especially the needy, answers to traditions of faith (though secular humanism fosters like-minded values without the baggage).
Americans routinely avoid impugning personal convictions, whether confidence in voodoo, astrology or heart-warming Biblical fables. The menace comes from numbers, organization, and political intrusion wherein unrepresentative minorities overturn the majority rights of free, fellow citizens. That’s when faith-alone dogmatism drives a stake into collective justice and equality, early casualties from faith-alone warfare. Does not democratic civilization depend on not just separating church and state but distinguishing what’s open to discourse (reason, logic, commonsense) vs. inner feelings that elevate mysterious, faith-driven, even fabricated realms and beings?
When pondering the meaning of the universe (or one human life), rational, secular humanism insists that the most fruitful conclusions resist defaults to invisible divinities that differ wildly from tribe to tribe and era to era. Discretion here is not only the better part of valor; it is the better part of human judgment, finding delight in the diversity of humankind, not its insularity. Secular wisdom — confident in law, diversity, and people having sovereignty over their lives – sustains truth, justice and the American way, aside from showing full legal respect for others, even dissenters.
P.S. In 1956 Congress dispatched our perfectly apt, secular motto, E pluribus unum (out of many one), with the decidedly sectarian invocation, In God We Trust. But will those of us skeptical “we” trust any such abstraction that is by definition beyond definition – or verification by direct experience. 1950’s America blithely insulted President Jefferson, who not only coined the phrase, “separation of church and state” in 1802 but built a solid wall between church and state. Time to rebuild that wall to return religious zealots to the church and away from governance. We can begin with viewing politics as about earthly matters. How about a spirit of governance marked by “Don’t Say God.”