Thursday, March 23, 2017

Do Republicans Even Want to Live in a Democracy? Part One

When I was 11 years old, a friend of mine talked me into going to summer camp. I was content to spend my vacation reading comic books and watching Days of Our Lives, but he convinced me that there would be so many fun things to do there like swimming and horseback riding, so I agreed. His family were Southern Baptists and, unbeknownst to me, so was the summer camp. My family was Lutheran, but we were pretty relaxed about our faith. If my religious experience was a lite beer, this summer camp was 150 proof rum.

My friend didn't lie completely. I did go swimming (once) and I went horseback riding (once), but mostly it was singing cheesy Christian songs and bible study and hell-fire preachin' in the evening. Pretty much cult brainwashing without the group sex. Although it was "Christian," we spent most of our time reading the Old Testament and Revelations. Doom, gloom, and everything you did was going to send you straight to Hell! Since my friend basically abandoned me once we got there to suck up to the "cool kids," I felt alone and homesick. I sought some guidance from one of the few laid-back counselors at the camp (most were sadistic morons who enjoyed beating up on little kids). He told me to read the Gospel According to John. To my surprise, I did find some solace there, for in the words of Jesus I found the compassion and humanist teachings that gave me some hope.

After I returned home, I found my mother's red letter edition of the New Testament, where all of Jesus's spoken words are printed in red ink. I would read only those passages, and it gave me a clearer understanding of what the true intent of Christianity was. I still had issues with some of what he said, as I always had with Christianity, but at least I felt that there were strong messages here around which I could build my own philosophy toward life. I also found it curious that, with all this good stuff in the New Testament, why the people at camp spent virtually no time focusing on it. After every meal, we would sing songs about how God loved us so much, and then in bible study we would study Revelations to find out how everyone was going straight to hell except those who were faithful to Jesus Christ. Not just God, mind you, but to Jesus Christ specifically. How could anyone who loved those he created so much mercilessly doom people who may have lived perfectly virtuous lives just because they did not believe Jesus was his son? Pretty cold, dude!

The evening services usually revolved around all the nasty sins people were perpetrating like premarital sex and drug use and other indulgent behavior. The preacher was practically licking his chops as he proclaimed that these people would burn in the eternal flames! I wanted to raise my hand and ask, "Are we talking about the same God we were singing about this morning over oatmeal?" While I hated the whole experience, I'm grateful that I had it because it sent me on a life-long journey of studying religion and spirituality. (Spoiler alert: I'm now an agnostic.)

For anyone who's still reading this, you might be wondering what any of this has to do with the title of this post. Well, there's no doubt that the Religious Right has insinuated itself into the political dialogue increasingly over the last 40 years. The Republican party embraced them as a way to win over these former Dixiecrats to their side. They are now major players in the party, but I have to ask myself, is their fundamental view of life compatible with a democratic government?

The frame of mind I witnessed in summer camp was essentially that of an abused spouse: "I love you so much! Please don't beat me! I'll be good!" The view was that a strong, authoritarian figure could provide you with a happy life, but only if you followed strict rules and did not question anything. Even as an 11 year old, I had witnessed enough alcoholic and abusive parents to know that this was not a healthy approach to life.

So if your entire cosmic view is that of an authoritarian deity with stringent rules and eternal damnation for those who don't follow those rules, you should probably want a really clear cut, well presentation rule book, right? Well, in this case, we're left with an ancient tome full of archaic language that can be cobbled up and taken out of context to mean pretty much anything you want it to mean. In recent years, we've heard a lot from Christians about how homosexuality is a sin because it says so in Leviticus (chapter 18, verse 22). I watched one Southern preacher on YouTube harping about this, but judging by his wobbling jowls and protruding belly, I'm pretty sure he partakes in some tasty pork products even though that is also a sin according to Leviticus (chapter 11, verse 7). I could go on and on about this kind of hypocrisy, but I'm really trying to make a bigger point.

The founding fathers took the path of independence from England because they hated rule by one authoritarian figure. They constructed a Constitution that had separation of powers and a chief executive rather than a king or a dictator. Further, the Constitution is a fluid document that could be revised and reinterpreted to suit changing times. In fact, the Bill of Rights were adopted rather quickly after the Constitution was ratified to clear up areas where the rights of the individual were not specified. The very first amendment states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...", the amendment that Thomas Jefferson said would create "...a wall of separation between Church and State." In other words, you can practice any kind of religion you want and our government will not mess with you, but we will also not adopt an official religion for the government or govern based on religious doctrine.

So we have a government that is secular, representative, and constructed to function in a deliberately slow and complex manner so that the citizens and their appointed officials can have time to study, debate, and reflect on the kinds of laws they want for their country. Pretty much the antithesis of the Christian religious view. For a couple of centuries, Christians in America were generally satisfied with a government that was distinct from their religious life, but in recent decades, we've seen a growing unrest among the Religious Right. Presidential candidates like Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum promoted the notion that U.S, law should be based on Christian teachings. Senator Ted Cruz is an adept political operative, but one senses that he too would favor a U.S. government with Christianity at its core if he had that choice. This kind of thinking points to a Christian theocracy, where a religious figure or group of Christian advisers would dictate the rules under which laws are created.

Why does this sound familiar? Oh yeah, because that's the kind of government Iran has, only their religion is Islam. If we think Iran is such a messed up place, why would we want the same kind of government? And given the complexities of our modern world, would an ancient text filled with allegories and vague language really be useful in forming policy regarding nuclear proliferation, climate change, and global trade? There's a reason the founding fathers wanted to keep religion out of politics.

Of course, not all Republicans are Christian fundamentalists. Next time, I'll look at another Republican faction that is pulling us away from Democracy.

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