Saturday, January 22, 2005

Topic of the Week - Hatred, Hubris, and The Christian Right

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents”
Eric Hoffer


WHY THE HATE? A significant number of fundamentalists in American today seem bereft of their touted Christian love and instead seem to radiate hate towards everything and everyone who does not share or match their beliefs. They reject the very world they find themselves in and live in hope of its destruction and their removal from it. They distain those who do not believe as they do. They hate specific groups like gays with often surprising intensity. They hate the government that is not exclusionary. They condemn churches that are inclusionary. They abhor those who do not take the Bible literally. They hate schools that are secular and scientific. They hate women’s rights. They condemn sex except for procreation. They may even hate dancing and music. They certainly hate the corruption of Hollywood and those they label Liberals. While this is certainly far from true for all Conservative Christians many of whom are repelled by the intensity of their more vehement fellow believers, the hate emanating from the Right, both religious and secular, is becoming palatable and tainting all who can be even loosely identified with it.

Targets are endless these days: Roe v. Wade one week, children's cartoon characters the next. Their condemnation is vitriolic, virulent, and unforgiving. This is not a voice Jesus would recognize. This is not love towards one another. This is not doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is vengeful and exclusionary and it will poison the very soul of America if left unchecked.

In Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address he said: "with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right." Lincoln prayed not that God would be on his side or the Union’s side, but rather hoped fervently that we were on God’s side. What hubris is it that makes so many Fundamentalists so sure they speak for America and God, that they are the chosen ones and are thus free to condemn as they see fit? They drag God into politics and thus demean Him by saying he belongs to them and them alone.

This holy hubris, this certitude, this certainty of who is to be condemned and who is worthy to be saved is at odds with not only the essential nature of democracy but with Jesus himself. You cannot have equality and fairness and be exclusionary at the same time. You cannot be both authoritarian and welcome voices of descent. Our Declaration of Independence declared all men to be created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights to be secured by a government deriving its just powers from the people--the consent of the governed. We are a democracy of many religious voices here in America. All of WE THE PEOPLE are meant to be represented, conservative as well as liberal, Deist as well as atheistic, Jewish as well as Muslim. We co-exist in this country to the envy of the world because of our carefully constructed democracy. Hate has been minimized up until now.

God cares for our souls not our votes. He will not gather up the worthy because Republicans are in power not Democrats. How audacious would we be to presume that He sets His agenda by America’s four year presidential cycle, or that He equates a Constitutional Amendment on Marriage to a psalm written in praise of Him, or that burning an abortion clinic is some sort of modern sacrifice honoring His name. God has not appeared with a new set of instruction in the last few thousand years and his first set, the Bible, is dated in many respects. Even those who believe He has spoken more recently like the Mormons have no up-to-date rulebook condemning the evils of Sponge Bob. The lessons we have been given are about living a moral life as kind and caring individual who honors God not about securing legislation marginalizing portions of the population for perceived sins.

Many of today’s Christian conservatives are bringing their self-righteousness to public policy. What is right for them is right for all. School prayer—Christian prayer-- is right by their standards but requiring daily reading from the Koran would be wrong, as would a daily Buddhist meditation for our public school children. They would ban same sex marriage because their faith condemns it and they see no problem in thus denying civil rights to a portion of the population as a result. They would remove science facts from textbooks that are at odds with their biblical views because they know in no uncertain terms that their view of the world is absolutely correct. They have a right to these choices in their private religious schools and can make these dogmas a requirement of their church members but they have no claim on America as a whole. Religious freedom guaranteed in our Constitution means religious freedom for all for. Our cherished document expressly protects and limits religion in America. It extends protection to members of all religions to worship as they please, but our Constitution also wisely keeps holy hubris and political power safely separated.

Hate is the unavoidable by-product of religious self-righteousness. It is a flame that once it is lit may prove impossible to extinguish. We were lucky that those led our American Revolution were not only strongly influenced by the Enlightenment, but were able to maintain its benevolent rationalism. They remembered well the religious wars in the countries they had left behind. A few years later in France, however, inflamed zealots released a firestorm of hatred that eventually consumed even the original revolutionary firebrands. Today Israel and Palestine burst into flames every other month, Sudan is devouring parts of its population with its brand of religious hatred, and even Northern Ireland has embers of hatred that still glow. This is the price of religious certitude when mixed with government.

Those on the religious right who condemn and exclude are feeding a new religious hatred in America. Recently they ignited flames of indignation against gays , for example, as a way to unite their followers in an effort to influence the election.
It worked--for hatred does indeed unify---but at what cost?

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