When Did the Infection Become So Pernicious?
The right wing of American politics has long been a collection of people from pretty diverse groups within an otherwise politically homogeneous umbrella. The outer group is composed largely, and this is due to the way that history played out and not because of any intent, of people who view government in general with a bit of distrust. That distrust seems to me to be borne of a desire to go on with their lives free from anyone else’s opinion on the matter. Within that outer umbrella of those that I’ll call “personal responsibility advocates” there are quite amazing numbers of smaller parties with highly diverse interests.
We have many issues that seem to resonate with the right wing: drug policy, foreign policy, gun rights, alcohol policy, welfare policy, states rights, the size of government, the powers delegated to government, the mechanisms of delegation of power, and on and on. For many in the right any one of the issues that matters to them may matter enough for them to be called single-issue voters on the issue because their opinion on it weighs so very heavily in their voting habits. Gun rights advocacy is one of the poster-children of this tendency.
2A advocacy deeply affects the voting habits of millions of Americans and that’s understandable. Once enshrined in the Bill of Rights the second amendment is no longer just an amendment to an agreement about the formation and rules of government. Rather the Bill of Rights is seen widely as a charter not of simple civil rights but of human rights which are much more fundamental. You have, individually, all of the rights spelled out in the first 10 amendments and no man can take them away from you. God given, natural, etc… whatever you want to call them, you have them from birth no matter where you’re born as long as you’re under U.S. civilian jurisdiction.
That’s the belief despite the fact that those rights can be and; quite frequently are, taken away or otherwise violated or infringed by the very government we put in place to protect them. Remember that after you’ve been convicted of certain crimes and have served your sentence (i.e. your debt to society has been paid) you are no longer in possession of several of those 10 fundamental rights of a free man. Some of them but not all of them can be kept. A rational and dispassionate person might question, “Why the selectivity?” A really thoughtful one might suggest that it’s like that for a reason and then describe exactly what those reasons are and compare them to the realities of the world and decide that a change is or is not in order. They will certainly have given it the due thought that few people give to even fewer issues these days.
Beyond genuine political matters such as welfare and women’s rights, taxes and immigration policy there are matters of conscience that are being dragged into the discussion and being used as selection criteria for our politicians. These are dangerous areas to contemplate legislation in or to select legislators on the basis of because conscience and politics are not always able to be rationalized in the same framework. Frequently you have to put one to the side or there just will be no progress. Sometimes it’s a matter of oxymoronic definitions that can’t be dealt with rationally. Sometimes it’s simply fallacious to ask a system of politics to solve for a matter of; essentially, faith.
In the past 50-ish years but, in particular since the 1973 Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion, and especially since the founding of the Moral Majority by Jerry Falwell something really dramatic has happened to the right wing and particularly to the Republican party. It’s been infected with religious fundamentalist based conservatism which has gradually gotten more and more pernicious, internally logically inconsistent and intolerant of its own members. The right now largely sees the bounds of the ethics of modern evangelical protestant Christianity as the boundaries and defining character traits of how they think the Republican party in the USA should act. The hell of it is, they’ve been a little inconsistent with their beliefs over the last 30 years.
For two thirds of a decade after the Roe v. Wade decision nobody in non-Catholic circles seemed to give two damns about the abortion question. In 1968 Christianity Today (the bulwark magazine for the conservative Christian at the time) flatly refused to characterize abortion as sinful and prominent ministers such as W. A. Criswell (former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century) was pleased: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” If you look at things it was a decade between one pastor saying he didn’t give a hoot about abortion and Falwell’s creation of a political advocacy group that seemed to care very much about abortion and anything else they could get their judgmental mitts on.
Falwell created the Moral Majority explicitly excluding the idea that it might discriminate against any religion. He actively courted Jews, Catholics and anyone else that agreed with their message, much to the chagrin of men like Bob Jones Jr. (then president of Bob Jones University, about the most bigoted university in the USA) who called Falwell “the most dangerous man in America”. Falwell deliberately injected religion into politics partly to shore up the Republican chances at electoral victory in the 80’s and by the time he’d shut down the Moral Majority he was able to declare that the central mission of the organization; which I contend was an afterthought, to make sure that religious conservatism was in American politics to stay, was completed and successful. He didn’t give a damn about abortion per se’. If he had he’d have formed MM in 1973 instead of 6 years later. What Falwell seemed to want was a job leading the masses and he was able to give himself not only a job but a fortune and political power which he didn’t have to win in an election or serve a traditional constituency to keep. Seems more than just a little self-serving any way you look at it. In fact a look at Falwell’s entire career suggests the speedy evolution of an opportunistic leech with a keen eye for creating divisions in groups that would push money into his pocket and power into his jacket.
So even in the height of the discussion as a matter of law, the evangelical movement seemed to not care very much, possibly at all until Falwell needed something to do and a paycheck. Now the abortion issue is right up there with gay rights and drugs and whether Jesus is or ever was anyone’s particular savior and whom exactly he was saving from precisely what. The evangelical movement sees all of those as matters of deep political consequence and has not only lost the capacity for forgiveness both inside and outside their ranks but has seemingly lost the page marker in the Bible where it talks about not judging and the reasons for not doing so. They are hyper-judgemental and the first to condemn someone for being any different than they are. Unfortunately for the right Evangelicals largely seem to call themselves Replublicans and that seriously dilutes and harms the message of classical republicanism which concerns itself with the delegation of limited authority and the sovereignty of the people rather than of the executive (or king). Republicanism has nothing intrinsically to do with silly things like abortion or gay marriage or whether or not the planet is 4.5 billion years old or around 6 thousand. It simply makes no statements about that stuff because it’s not concerned with them at all.
Nowadays we in the Replublican party are being overwhelmed with not just fundamentalist protestant christian religiosity but with a curiously under-considered dogmatic interpretation of scripture which is largely modern and appears to be attempting a revival of pre-renaissance ideas of a flat and young Earth, literal readings of the Bible, condemnation of your neighbor and other fundamentalist tropes. The Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision was immediately and loudly and is still being decried as the corrupt product of an “activist court” “legislating from the bench” and “outside SCOTUS’s authority”. What that analysis lacks is any idea of what the Supreme Court’s authority is, which is to decide matters of constitutionality on any case that is brought to them. They can accept or refuse any case, they have life tenure, are appointed not elected and their decision is final and binding. If you come to them with a case and they take the case up then whatever decision they reach is the final word on the matter until a new court is seated (which can take decades) and a new case is found and fought and accepted by SCOTUS. The idea that a century ago some states attempted to nullify SCOTUS decisions by simply failing to follow or enforce them is meaningless because those states that attempted nullification were acting outside the constitution, in open rebellion and contempt of court, just like Kim Davis did.
Religion has a place. I’m not sure what that place is since it’s never had one in my life but I’m sure there’s a place for it in the world if not in my personal universe. Possibly it would go well in a museum or a text book dedicated to mental disorders. There’s also a place for politics. Possibly in a museum or in a text book about mental disorders. When the two start sharing the same decision space though, we get nothing but the worst possible products of both. We must remember that this is not a Christian nation. It’s a nation populated largely by Christians but the two are not synonymous. The founding fathers created a pluralistic system of government at a time when the common way to do things was for one religion, one specific sect even, to be dominant and to occupy the spaces of political power as well as spiritual power. They did that because they weren’t stupid or all from the same sect. Some were apparently even flirting pretty vigorously with atheism. All recognized though that several of the sects in parts of the emergent country would want to eradicate sects in other parts so they’d better make it so the sects all had to tolerate each other by giving none of the sects as such a single ounce of political power.
If the Republicans want to succeed then they need to drum out of the party the idea that religious ideologies have any place in discussions on matters of governance. We need exorcise the demons of hate, bigotry, pride, wrath and judgement from our ranks. It doesn’t matter if someone wishes to believe a stack of 2000 year old indefensible, unproveable superstitions based on the bizarre ideas of theocratic primitive tribesmen. That’s fine. Kinda illogical but fine. Don’t inject the ideology of a religion into matters of law and governance though. Some religions think abortions are a non-issue, just like fundamentalist evangelicals in the 60’s did. Today the only religious group I can identify that is as vigorous about compliance with their particular superstition is fundamentalist Islam. A shocking and some might say unjust comparison. I don’t think so. Look at the actions and words of the two groups. The only difference I can really find is Christian fundies in the USA usually show their faces when they commit an atrocity.
Some religions don’t give two damns about 2 guys that like to kiss and hug and want to spend their lives together. Some care very much indeed. No two systems of belief; which is by definition the blind acceptance of some story as fact without a shred of evidence and occasionally in the face of evidence to the contrary, are going to see exactly the same way on these sorts of divisive issues because they arise from someone asking a divisive question in the first place. Doing so in a way that the question cannot be satisfactorily answered by either side. As soon as there is real testable and falsifiable evidence which can be independently verified you can do just that and come up with something that can objectively serve as some sort of answer.
I spend a good bit of time on gun and speech rights forums and what I’ve found in each of those is astonishingly disheartening. The most vicious, hateful and persistent diatribes against any one person or practice are handed down by those that profess adherence to a religion of forgiveness and love. The most forgiving and loving statements seem to come from those with absolutely no bond at all to any system of supernatural faith. It seems to me that secular humanists have stolen from Christianity the mantel and title of protector and defender of the sinner and given to the religious right, by way of like kind exchange, a complete indifference to the suffering of men and a feeling of self-superiority which appears to be unjustified in all of its many manifestations.
The religious Republican right seems to act a lot like the way that they say the Democratic left operates. Sticking its nose in the affairs of others, punishing non-conformity, berating and attacking classical constitutional liberalism (classical liberalism associated with individual freedom, not modern liberalism associated with welfare), and rewarding willful ignorance. The right wing has lost its lofty position as defender of freedom and is now engaged in a campaign of gain-saying and division which if left unchecked will collapse the Republican party and take with it the last bits of the conservative ideal: That men are free to do with their lives that which they wish. If they should transgress against another then they must stand and take the consequence willingly to make recompense, and; having done so, return to the fold of the community to continue his life unabated in pursuit of whatever joy he can find.
No problem of physics or mathematics or chemistry or logic can be solved by ignoring the facts. No problem of society can be solved by society fracturing. No problem of governance can be solved by reaching outside the world of government. No amount of faith stops a bad idea being a bad idea. No amount of empirical evidence will convince a mind clouded by blind belief.
If you think that’s anti-christian, ask my christian wife how anti-christian I am. I hold all three of the Abrahamic religions in some level of contempt, it’s hard to look at their histories and not do so. I don’t actively try to destroy their freedom to be themselves. I also recognize that, in the west at least, the competition for power between the forces of faith and the forces of temporal authority (government) created independent powers that did not need permission or enablement by the other to be legitimate and in that separation of church and state authorities space was created for genuinely free men to enjoy a life not ruled by a political or religious center of power but by the people through their representatives. Christianity is a one to many relationship. God says so, so everyone has to do it. Modern representative constitutional democracy is a many to one relationship where the masses agree on a set of rules and the individual is imposed upon to obey them or to accept the consequence of not doing so. They’re so fundamentally different it should be obvious to all that the mixing of them can only be nonsensical.