Tolerating the Intolerant: The Christian Right in American Politics
In the United States our intellectual history has shown an evolution in religion/state relations that is at times accommodating and at times insisting on a strict separation. These two trends have been particularly active with issues such as prayer in public schools and abortion. Both areas of contention have been part of a larger ideological struggle that continues in our politics today. We are still asking: What role is religion to play in public life and what is the appropriate state control/regulation of religion? I want to explore the threat that the Christian right poses to the separation of church and state. Through ideology, informal institutions and political culture, religiously intolerant views are forcefully influencing our politics. I think that our tradition, as Ahmet Kuru (2009) defines as passive secularism, is unable to abate this threat and a stricter separation of church and state is necessary to the survival of secular politics and institutions.
Religious tolerance is a foundation of American society, state and politics. But how much toleration will we extend to the intolerant? This is a question that has been at the forefront of our intellectual history as Locke and Rousseau illustrate:
No opinions contrary to human society, or to those moral rules which are necessary to the preservation of civil society are to be tolerated by the magistrate…These therefore, and the like, who attribute unto the faithful, religious, and orthodox, that is, in plain terms, unto themselves, a peculiar privilege or power above other mortals, in civil concernments, or who, upon pretense of religion, do challenge any manner of authority over such as are not associated with them in the ecclesiastical communion, I say, these have no right to be tolerated by the magistrate (Locke 2010, 53-55).
There is therefore a purely civil profession of faith of which the Sovereign should fix the articles, not exactly as the religious dogmas, but as social sentiments without which a man cannot be a good citizen or a faithful subject. While it can compel no one to believe them, it can banish from the state whoever does not believe them – it can banish him, not for impiety, but as an anti-social being, incapable of truly loving the laws and justice…The dogmas of civil religion ought to be few, simple, and exactly worded…its negative dogmas I confine to one, intolerance…it is impossible to live at peace with those we regard as damned…tolerance should be given to all religions that tolerate others, so long as their dogmas contain nothing contrary to the duties of citizenship (Rousseau 2010, 103-104).
The common strain is that the intolerant in a society founded on tolerance is a threat to the state. Only when groups propagate intolerant views contrary to the state, civil society, and duties of citizenship, do they become threats and should thus lose the privilege of tolerance. The Christian right (particularly the Christian Reconstruction movement) has become such a threat. It has become a powerful, influential force in our political life, affecting and defining ideologies that, I will argue, violate the separation between religion and state. I will discuss school prayer and abortion as well as other contemporary issues such as sex education in schools, the evolution/creationism debate and homosexuality. The Christian right will be explored first followed by theoretical frameworks, defining ideology, fundamentalism and political culture. The work and ideas of John Locke will be used in defense of my argument.
Lets briefly, as an introduction, explore the difference between these two quotes and the ideological assumptions that are their foundation:
The Christian view of morality and life is the one that should prevail in America...our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost…as the vice regents of god, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment, our news media, our scientific endeavors – in short, over every aspect and institution of human society (Hedges 2006, 58) – Dr. D. James Kennedy
Our loyalty to our community, our nation and our ideology, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “is morally tolerable only if it includes values wider than those of the community” (Hedges, 10). Views similar to those of Dr. D. James Kennedy illustrate a worldview referred to as “Dominionism,” which takes its name from Genesis 1:26-31 when God gave humans dominion over all creation. Dominionism espouses an ideology that calls on the seizing of political power by Christians, politicizing faith. Christians are called to build the kingdom of God in the here and now, it is their responsibility and duty (Hedges, 12).
Dominionism is embodied in the Christian Reconstruction movement, said to begin with R.J. Rushdoony. In 1973 he wrote the famous The Institutes of Biblical Law. In this book, Rushdoony calls for a reinstatement of Mosaic Law outlined in the Old Testament. These penal codes call for the death penalty for such offenses as adultery, blasphemy, homosexuality, astrology, idolatry and apostasy, and in the case of women “unchastity before marriage” (Hedges, 13). Religious institutions, its laws and penalties, should replace secular institutions. But we are forced to ask: what about people who aren’t Christian? Rushdoony said, “Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies…Christianity is completely and radically anti-democratic; it is committed to spiritual aristocracy.” Rushdoony, in these statements illustrate that the Christian reconstruction movement is both fundamentalist and exclusivist. They hold the inerrant truth and must become the shepherds of the lost and the damned, acting as a divine authority with dominion over all others, Christian or not. Before I discuss how influential these ideas are in our politics and civil society, the nature of fundamentalism and exclusivism must be discussed.
Fundamentals of Fundamentalism
Fundamentalism is inherently reactive to various elements of secularization and modernization influences. It is foremost concerned with the erosion and displacement of religion in society. Religions proper role in public life has been diminished and replaced. In Fundamentalisms Comprehended, Marty and Appleby (1995) present a brief overview of the ideological foundations of fundamentalism. It is dualistic in nature. The world outside is contaminated and the world inside is pure. There are the sinful and the saved, the righteous and the wicked. These boundaries are strict. These groups offer perfect purity to its members. They have the path to liberation and offer sanctum from the contaminated, sinful world outside their community. In doing so they are absolutists in nature, meaning they believe in inerrancy, a point I will return to again and again. For example, the Accelerated Christian Education, one of the countries largest publishers of Christian textbooks, defines liberal and conservative as such, liberal – “referring to philosophy not supported by scripture” and conservative – “dedicated to the preserving of scriptural principles” (Hedges, 152). A dichotomy is set up, between believers and non-believers, between those with truth and those without.
Exclusivism is the attitude that my community, my nation, my tradition and set of values are the only correct ones, excluding all others. My way is true and all others false. For example, Reverend Bailey Smith at a Religious Roundtable in Dallas, Texas said, “God almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew. For how in the world can God hear the prayer of a man who says Jesus Christ is not the true messiah” (Flemming, 2005)? The Catholic Encyclopedia defines atheism as such: “Formal dogmatic atheism is self refuting, and has never de facto won the reasoned assent of any considerable number of men. Nor can polytheism, however easily it may take hold of the popular imagination, ever satisfy the mind of a philosopher” (Dawkins 2006, 53). These examples illustrate the exclusive attitude. My religion, my way of thinking, is the right way, others are wrong, and it is our duty to eradicate the opposition. This way of thinking brings up the question of truth claims. How can people from different traditions claim that their way is the correct and all others are false? How can they all be right? Inter-religious dialogue from these points of views is pointless. No understanding may be reached because before the conversation begins, the mind is already made up; there is no room for any new information. This fallacy was a basis for Locke’s call for toleration,
Peace, equity, and friendship, are always mutually to be observed by particular churches, in the same manner as by private persons, without any pretense of superiority or jurisdiction over one another…for every church is orthodox to itself…whatsoever any church believes, it believes to be true, and the contrary thereto it pronounces to be error; so that the controversy between these churches about the truth of their doctrines, and the purity of their worship, is on both sides equal (21-22)
Pluralism stands opposite of exclusivism. It can be not only difficult to understand but also to practice. It asserts that no single lineage, community, nation, text, or teacher possesses spiritual/religious truth exclusively, or inclusively. All texts, nations, communities and teachers are prized on their own terms, as contributing knowledge and livelihood to the greater whole of humanity. However, pluralism is not synonymous with diversity. Rather than just accepting the differences and other-ness in a relativistic sense, pluralism is active. It promotes an actual encounter with difference; it is an opportunity for engagement and conversation. This conversation leads to greater understanding and cohesion. We are intolerant and exclusive to the extent we are incapable of including those outside the community we identify with in our sets of values.
Exclusivism, whether religious or social, inherently sets up an in group/out group binary. The in-group is brought together by a shared ideology and adherence to their version of truth. Outside influence and different ideas are threatening to their faith, their beliefs, their culture and entire way of life. Therefore, difference is demonized, cast out and attacked. As Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue illustrates, “Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want pluralism…We must have a Christian nation built on God’s law, on the Ten Commandments. No apologies” (Dawkins, 2006). Pluralism, diversity and secular institutions become the enemy. Taking prayer out of schools, legalizing abortion, allowing for gay marriage and teaching evolution instead of creationism all appear as part of an epic religious struggle fought with passionate tenacity.
You must be saying to yourselves at this point that people who fit these descriptions of fundamentalism and exclusivism, those who call for a Christian nation, are the vast minority. This assumption is false, naïve, and dangerous. As we will see, this is a highly motivated, well-organized and well-funded movement that is extremely political.
The Christian Right: Examples
James Dobson wants to ban abortion, supports abstinence only sex education and is extremely anti-gay. He calls for prayer in public schools, although, only if students lead, because teachers may encourage Christian students “to pray to Allah, Buddha or the godless Sophia.” He urges Christian parents to pull their children out of the public school system and likens the proponents of gay marriage to the Nazis, saying to parents, “this movement is the greatest threat to your children” (Hedges, 103). He is a Ph.D. in child development, who taught at USC. He is heard on the Focus on the Family program run on over 3000 radio stations, and operates organizations in 36 states. He employs 1,300 people, sends out four million pieces of mail each month and is heard in 116 countries. His estimated listening audience is more than 200 million worldwide, and in the U.S., appears on 80 television stations each day. Bill McCartney, the founder of Promise Keepers, a conservative Christian group for men, calls the battle against abortion the Second Civil War. In the brochure of Love Won Out, sponsored by James Dobson, homosexuality is called a disease and is condemned as a “threat to the family, the health of the nation and Christianity itself” (Hedges, 96). It says they “declare war on those who are unrepentant and those they brand as militant and actively promote the gay agenda. They say there should be no tolerance for those who refuse to get help [purge same-sex attraction and adopt traditional male and female roles]” (Hedges 96). America, they say, will pay a price for permitting gays and lesbians to live openly in defiance of God. This is described as “moral pollution.” God will punish America if we do not repress gays and lesbians. Pat Robertson was bold enough to say,
I believe the protection, the covering of God that has been on this great land of ours for so many years, had lifted on September 11, and allowed this thing to happen. God apparently had good reasons for exposing the USA to such destruction given the many sins that Americans have committed ever since the Roe versus Wade court case and the Supreme Court decision to keep God out of schools (Hedges, 106).
Many in the Christian Right assert that because of “moral pollution,” because abortion is legal and because we do not allow prayer in public schools, God has punished America by killing thousands of innocent people. And Robertson warns that if we do not do something about this moral pollution soon, something worse will happen. Whatever catastrophe befalls our nation next, in his (and many others) eyes, it will be because we fail to have our public institutions follow their version of God’s will. This exclusive and fundamentalist ideology does not offer legitimacy to other, different ways of being, or reasoning, that are morally and socially acceptable. There is one way to be and either you are on board or you are their enemy. Locke described this as “absolute theocracy,” there is no difference between the commonwealth and religion…”God himself has become the legislator” (2010, 44).
Rod Parsely is the head of World Harvest Church and is a charismatic leader of the Christian Right. He is noted famously for saying,
The secular media never likes it when I say this, so let me say it twice. Man you battle stations! Ready your weapons! They say this rhetoric is so inciting. I came to incite a riot. Man your battle stations! Ready your weapons! Lock and load!...Let the struggle begin. Let it begin today with a shout unto Him who has called us to war… (Hedges, 162).
The battle for Christian values in the public sphere is a perpetual war. This war cannot be one simply because they believe they have the inerrant truth and will not compromise their position.
Timothy LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins coauthor a series of Christian apocalyptic thrillers called “Left Behind.” These books have more than 62 million copies in print and have been made into movies and video games. In these novels, those who join with the anti-Christ include the “United Nations, the European Union, Russia, Iraq, all Muslims, the media and the liberals. The anti-Christ, who runs the UN eventually moves the headquarters to Babylon (Hedges, 187). Frank Wright who served as the executive director for Kennedy’s Center for Christian Statesmanship, a ministry that conducts training for politicians on how to “think biblically about their role in government,” warned that “calls for diversity and multiculturalism are nothing more than thinly veiled attacks on anyone who is willing or desirous or compelled to proclaim Christian truth” (Hedges, 138-9).
During his presidency, George W. Bush gave public funds to faith-based organizations. In 2003, they received 8.1% of the social service grant budget. In 2004, that increased to 10.3% or $2.005 billion. In 2005, it increased to 11%, over $1 billion of which was spent on chastity programs alone (Hedges, 23-4). Public money, in this case, is being used to propagate sexual values that just happened to be in line with the dominant cultural, religious ideology of the Republican Party. More and more, there has been a trend of the moral values of the Christian Right playing a role in politics. For example, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said “I see the Family Research Council (FRC) as a bridge between Christians and between government…as this bridge, the FRC sends its team to Congress and into the White House on a daily basis to advocate for family and for our faith” (Hedges 138). The Senator from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn, not only wanted to ban abortion but also called for the death penalty for doctors who would carry out abortions once the ban was put in place (Hedges, 23). Religion, it is easy to see, is quite present in our everyday politics. But intolerant religious views are also present and quite powerful. The Christian Right has gained steam, tipping the balance in their favor.
The history of religion/state dynamics is characterized by an ebb and flow between accommodation and separation. This ideological struggle, Kuru describes as a “passive secularism.” Religion and its symbols are allowed in public space but with certain restrictions. For example, in McCreary County v. ACLU, it was decided that displaying the Ten Commandments in courthouses and public schools in Kentucky violated the Establishment Clause. However, in Texas, it was said that the same issue did not violate the Establishment Clause due to its historical and secular aspects. This ideological struggle is evident in other areas of public life as well.
The Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed in 1796 with the ruler of Tripoli explicitly says, “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion…” Yet many call the United States a Christian nation. It has been cited as such in judicial hearings, and been a factor in many court decisions. In 1890, the Court criticized “polygamy for being a crime ‘by the laws of all civilized and Christian countries’ and recognized as such ‘by the general consent of the Christian world’” (Kuru, 86). In 1844, the Court referred to the Bible as “a divine revelation.” In 1892 the Court explicitly defined America as “a religious nation.” The Court elaborated that these decisions and references “add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation” (Kuru, 87). Conservatives and liberals as well as their mutual extremes, strict separationists and those on the Christian Right, have different interpretations of secularism and what it means for religion/state dynamics. Passive secularism can be said to include moderates on both the liberal and the conservative sides.
The Christian Right has become a much more powerful force in recent history, tipping the balance in their favor. For example, in 1950 there were only 18 major religious lobbies in D.C.; by 1985 that number increased to eighty. From 1943 to 1980 the Supreme Court made 57% separationist decisions and 36% accomodationist decisions; from 1981 to 2002, the trend shifts with 60% accomodationist decisions and 35% separationist decisions (Kuru, 63). This trend can be attributed to both an ideological backlash to secular policies and an increased organizational capacity of the Christian Right. Kuru summarizes, “the dominance of separationism ignited a religiously conservative countermovement in the 1950s” (93). This can be illustrated by the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and the declaration of a National Day of Prayer in 1952. “In God We Trust” became mandatory to have on all currency in 1955, and in 1956 it became our national motto. In 1952, Justice William O. Douglas said, “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being” (94).
President Ronald Reagan effectively created an alliance between the Christian Right and the Republican Party. Their presence and influence in Washington has increased dramatically since this marriage. The Christian Coalition, the Eagle Forum and the Family Resource Council rank politicians in terms of their adherence to Christian values (Hedges, 23). In 2004, 45 senators and 186 members of the house received approval ratings in between 80 and 100 percent. Exit polls on Election Day indicated that 23% of voters identified as evangelical and 78% of their vote went to the Republican Party. The majority of voters said the most important issue for them in the election was “moral values,” in this case, religious values such as abortion and homosexuality. In presidential and house elections in the 2000s, 60 percent of those who said they frequently attended worship services voted for the Republican Party, while only 40 percent voted for the democrats (Kuru, 53). As we will see in the coming section, an informal institution, that of religious discourse in the public sphere, is becoming more and more formalized through this marriage with the Republican Party.
The Christian Right, led by Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, based itself largely in opposition to court decisions on the issues of prayer in public schools and abortion. Robertson in 1990 founded the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which influences judicial nominations, and attempts to retain references to God in public space. Dr. D. James Kennedy runs a lobbying group called the Center for Reclaiming America and the Center for Christian Statesmanship, which evangelizes to members of congress (Hedges, 58). He also hosts monthly luncheons for members of congress and their staffs. Kennedy desires to ban abortion, homosexuality and the study of evolution. He claims the theories of evolution were the basis for Nazism, Communism and Fascism. He formed Worthy Creations Ministry in 1998, which claims that homosexuality is a disease that can be cured.
The Michael Newdow case in California in 2002 illustrates both the emotional backlash toward secular ideology and the cultural dominance of what is being called the “monotheistic alliance.” The court ruled that the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as the requirement that teachers lead the recitation, violated the First Amendment Establishment Clause. Immediately, the decision sparked emotional reactions from politicians. The House and the Senate struck down the decision by voting 416-3 and 99-0 respectively. In addition, they passed a new bill just afterward keeping the words “under God” in the pledge and “In God We Trust” as the national motto. Some argue that these phrases do not violate the constitution on account of their not being attached to a particular religion. Others say that its constitutional because its not religious, but historical, and is a mere patriotic ceremony.
Conservative Supreme Court Justice Scalia, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas, argued that the public honoring of God and the Ten Commandments is constitutional because ‘the three most popular religions in the U.S., Christianity, Judaism and Islam – which combined account for 97.7% of all believers – are monotheistic…it is entirely clear from our Nation’s historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists (Kuru, 55-56).
Does this quote amount to what Kuru calls “a cultural dominance of Christianity in the U.S.” (53)? This quote shows a complete disregard for the protection of religious minorities and nonbelievers, establishing a state recognized favoritism that clearly violates the very notion of religious pluralism and separation of religion and state.
Can you imagine a republican candidate in the coming 2012 primary elections being pro-choice or for same-sex marriage? Michelle Bachman, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney are all pro-life, and all have said they would repeal Roe v. Wade. Bachman called Planned Parenthood a “heinous organization.” Cain said, “It’s not Planned Parenthood, It’s planned genocide.” Cain is also against same sex marriage and even civil unions. Gingrich opposes all domestic partnership benefits. Both Cain and Gingrich have said they think homosexuality is a sin, their religious beliefs clearly dictating their public policy decisions. Both Gingrich and Romney have said they will enact a federal amendment to “protect traditional family values.” Gingrich went so far as to say that “judges must understand our rights come from God, not the government.” There is a growing shift in the balance of passive secularism. Assertive secularism must respond in kind.
Informal Institutions, Ideology & Psychology of Religion
In the world of comparative politics, it has been widely recognized the role of formal institutions such as constitutional design, electoral systems and other formal arrangements affect political and economic outcomes, the “rules of the game” so to speak. However, informal institutions are now being recognized as also having great influence on the state. Informal can be said to be structures that are “created, communicated, and enforced outside of officially sanctioned channels” (Helmke and Levitsky 2004, 725). This area of research offers new insight into the motivations of political behavior. It is necessary to explore the religious dimensions of political motivation. I will argue that an informal institution has been established that not only accepts and encourages politics in religion, but accepts religious reasoning in politics. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and it would be naïve to say that religious reasoning should be completely outside of the political sphere. However, I am arguing that when the religious reasoning used for a political position is inherently intolerant, insofar as they are exclusivist, it should not be tolerated. For example, the reasoning behind such issues as homosexual marriage, abortion, and the creationism/evolution debate, are usually, if not always religious in nature. Marriage is a historically religious institution and is heterosexual in nature. Arguments to define the secular institution of marriage are based on this history, creating an informal institution. If adopted as a constitutional ban as President Bush tried to accomplish, it would have been a formal adoption of an informal institution, discriminatory in nature. Pro-life arguments against abortion are often religiously based, claiming that the soul enters the body upon conception.
Ideology is a key feature to explore simply because it provides meaning to both individuals and to society as a whole. Clifford Geertz says, “the function of ideology is to make an autonomous politics possible by providing the authoritative concepts that render it meaningful” (1997, 218). People are guided emotionally and intellectually by unexamined biases. When these biases are religious in nature and provide them with a sense of personal purpose and meaning they are advanced with great passion and little compromise. Ideologies are thus crucial as sources of sociopolitical meanings and attitudes. People adopt ideologies or are indoctrinated or socialized into them, get organized around them and advance them in their struggle to transform public policy.
Geertz says there are currently two approaches to the study of the social determinants of ideology: the interest theory and the strain theory. A background of universal struggle for power, influence and advantage characterizes the interest theory. A background of an effort to correct sociopsychological disequilibrium characterizes the strain theory. These two are not mutually exclusive and can both be present in an ideological framework. “Ideology is a patterned reaction to the patterned strains of a social role. It provides a symbolic outlet from emotional disturbances generated by social disequilibrium” (1997, 204). The perceived disequilibrium in the state by those in the Christian right is seen as the secular policies we have been discussing.
The movement as a whole is seen as being attacked by government, by secularism and secularists. Their tradition, their way of life is under siege. As Hedges said, “the movement is being fueled by the fear of powerful external and internal enemies…these carefully cultivated feelings of persecution foster a permanent state of crisis, a deep paranoia and fear” (28). On the defensive, Dr. Kennedy summarizes this perspective.
The hostile barrage from atheists, agnostics and other secular humanists has begun to take a serious tool on [our] heritage. In recent years they have built up their forces and even increased their assault upon all our Christian institutions, and they have been enormously successful in taking over the public square. Public education, the media, the government, the courts and even the church in many places, now belong to them (Hedges, 58).
The patterned reaction is thus an ideological reaction that is highly emotional and uncompromising. The Christian reconstruction movement can be thought of as consisting of both the interest theory and the strain theory. They are locked in a epic struggle for power and position in the public sphere and they also act as a countermovement in response to the social disequilibrium they feel on both the personal and communal levels. It is exactly these struggles however that makes this a powerful movement. They offer a sense of excitement, belonging and personal empowerment to their members, comradeship and solidarity. It gives mundane life a sense of purpose and meaning. Lives transform into an epic battle against evil. Stability in the home and family is offered; you are now in a loving and supportive community with fixed moral standards abolishing uncertainty and doubt. The confusing world is made into a predictable and understandable world where the knowledge of God and Truth is comforting and offers solace from the messiness of human life. In short, they abandon reality for a fantasy; one that fulfills deep psychological and social needs through an inability to cope with ambiguity, uncertainty and existential fears (death, meaninglessness, isolation and freedom). Hedges says,
The difficult task of learning to make moral choices, how to deal with the chaos of human life is handed over to God-like authority figures…people are no longer judged by their intrinsic qualities, by their action or capacity for self sacrifice and compassion, but by the rigidity of their obedience (88).
Ideological movements can thus be explained as catharsis. Emotional tension can be drained off by being displaced onto symbolic enemies, which in turn provides a legitimate justification for hostility. But ideological movements, more dangerously, can also be explained through individuals and groups legitimizing their actions in terms of adherence to higher values or higher purposes (especially those ordained by God), which can be the ultimate justification for an uncompromising position. The clash of ideologies, Geertz explains, may bring a given problem to attention, but it may also give it a powerful, passionate charge so that it may no longer be possible to deal with it rationally. When evil is always externalized, the moral justification is provided for the complete eradication of the enemy with no compromise. The marriage of the Christian Right with the Republican Party can be thought of as informal institutions beginning to be formalized in our political system. It is not only becoming the norm, but it is also beginning to embed itself in our very institutions. Considering these issues, we need to be deeply concerned with not only the presence of these religious ideologies in our politics but with the rise of the Christian Right religious education of our children, which will perpetuate this informal institution.
Fundamentalists are highly concerned with education systems of the secularized world and thus seek to censor information, protecting civil society from their perceived corruption. Behavior deemed sinful is clearly outlined and must be strictly regulated. The fundamentalist publishing house A Beka defines African religious beliefs as “false”, and Hinduism as “pagan” and “evil.” Their high school history textbook blames the poverty and chaos in Africa on their lack of Christian faith (Hedges, 153).
America’s Providential History by Mark Beliles and Stephan McDowell published in 1989 has become the standard textbook in Christian schools for history classes. It says “When the spirit of the Lord comes into a nation, that nation is liberated. The degree to which the Spirit of the Lord is infused into a society (through its people, laws and institutions) is the degree to which that society will experience liberty” (Hedges 16). In Biology: Gods Living Creation another popular Christian school textbook it claims that “the probability that evolution occurred is essentially zero” (Hedges 118). This pseudo science seeps into the public debate, and is reported by the media nervous to present multiple sides to every argument. This is why intelligent design or creationism is taught alongside evolution in science classes across the country, a view that President George W. Bush argues for.
Between 1992 and 2002, total enrollment in conservative Christian schools rose 41%. Between 1999 and 2003, the number of home-schooled children rose from 850,000 to 1.1 million. Of those surveyed, 72% of parents said it was because they desired to give their children a religious a moral instruction (Hedges 153).
Pastor Russell Johnson warns about the “secular jihadists” who have hijacked American. He accuses the secular public schools of neglecting to teach that Hitler was an evolutionist. In line with the interest theory as presented by Geertz, the rhetoric used creates an atmosphere of warfare, of being constantly under attack. Other political viewpoints and moral systems are a threat to social security and cohesion. There is one, uniform moral code. It must not only pervade private life but also public life.
Conclusion: Tolerate the Intolerant?
Democracy is not antithetical to faith. Democracy merely seeks to keep faith in the private sphere ensuring equality and an equal measure of protection for all people, regardless of differences in religion. It ensures coexistence. The call for a breakdown of public and private spheres is a call for the breakdown of democracy. In the fundamentalist and exclusivist world, there are those that are worthy of love and tolerance and those who are not. The criteria used to determine these distinctions are based on a fixed set of moral principles dictated by religion and religious authorities.
Speaking of fundamentalist religions, Locke said, “they only ask to be tolerated by the magistrate so long, until they find themselves strong enough to effect it” (55). Ironically, the multiculturalism and tolerance extended by the state, that they wish to in many ways abolish, is exactly what permits them have a voice in the first place. Debate with the Christian Right is pointless. They cannot be reached through logical argument and conversation. This movement is bent on the destruction of secular life. They call for exclusion, cruelty and intolerance, and justify their war on the highest of moral principles, which will never be compromised. We should not engage in dialogue with those who would deny us our rights without a moment’s hesitation. All public dialogue must be built on a foundation of mutual respect and tolerance for differences of belief. When this cannot be attained, a clash of ideologies ensues and it becomes instead of a conversation, a fight for survival.
If this movement succeeds it will be because of those who treat this mass movement as if it were another legitimate player in an open society, This is the awful paradox of tolerance. There arise moments when those who would destroy the tolerance that makes an open society possible should no longer be tolerated. They must be held accountable by institutions that maintain the free exchange of ideas and liberty (Hedges, 34).
Passivity threatens the state and it threatens secular life. Assertive secularism must become more active in our formal institutions. “A change in the design of the formal rules may affect the costs and benefits of adhering to related informal rules, which can produce rapid informal institutional change” (Helmke and Levitsky, 735). Through the creation of incentives, actors may abandon or modify the informal rule. The time has come to recognize that the Christian Right is a serious threat to our democracy. A passive secularism allows groups such as these to reap the benefits of tolerance whilst refraining from offering those benefits to others. We must abolish intolerance.
1. Kuru, Ahmet, T. (2009). Secularism and State Policies Toward Religion: The United States, France and Turkey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2. Locke, John. (2010). A Letter Concerning Toleration. LaVergne, TN: Ecco Print Editions.
3. Hedges, Chris. (2006). American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. New York: Free Press.
4. Geertz, Clifford. 1997. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers.
5. Martin E. Marty, R. Scott Appleby Eds. (1995). Fundamentalisms Comprehended. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
6. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. (2010). On the Social Contract. New York: Classic Books International.
7. Dawkins, R. (2006). The God Delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
8. Jackson, A. (Producer), Flemming, B. (Director). (2005). The God Who Wasn’t There: A Film Beyond Belief. United States of America: Beyond Belief Media.
9. Helmke, Gretchen and Steven Levitsky. (2004). “Informal Institutions and Comparative Politics: A Research Agenda,” Perspectives on Politics 2 (4): 725-40.