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palingyuan requested a rant on the Evangelical Right. Somehow that settled in my brain as the Religious Right, which is a somewhat broader topic. I think this will cover the request, though, so I'm doing the whole thing.

With the capital letters, it tends to mean just one thing, but the phrase "religious right" can be interpreted in a number of ways. It turns out that WordPerfect's dictionary/thesaurus lists fourteen definitions for "right" - some of them, admittedly, being remarkably similar. Three come to mind offhand as topics that provoke me.

First, there's the religious right, with right meaning correct. My personal religious beliefs include, among other things, the concept that there is no correct way for all people to relate to God. True spirituality, as I see it, almost requires an individual approach, because people think, feel, and respond in so very many ways. Thus, what is right for me is not going to be right for everyone. I don't necessarily have a problem with people who believe that they follow the One True Way. I disagree, but if it works for them, then I accept it.

My problem is with the people that feel that not only their way is the only way, but that those who don't follow it must be either reviled, or worse, converted. They can feel free to think I'm going to hell. They can even tell me so. But I don't need to hear about what I do wrong and what they do right, when I haven't asked. In fact, proselytization tends to do exactly the opposite of its intended goal, where I'm concerned. Speaking of proselytization, I recommend nemo_wistar's dissections of the Chick tracts to anyone with a sense of humor on the subject. Most memorable highlight so far: denouncing the Communion wafer as the "Death Cookie". Yes, these are Christian publications, why do you ask?

Second, there's the religious right, right meaning politically conservative. These are the ones most often capitalized, and the ones who drive me batty. It seems that they're getting more prevalent, too. I was thinking this morning that it's a little scary to look back a decade to Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America (adjust preposition as appropriate), and think that perhaps that wasn't nearly as unreasonable and extremist as I had thought at the time. That was a successful election ploy not so much because of the conservatism, but because it was the most clearly stated political platform the country had seen in ages. However, that platform was based primarily on economic conservatism, even though they appealed to and were described as the religious right. This past fall, the elections were heavily influenced by moral issues, and in fact I would argue that the gay marriage question is directly what re-elected the President.[1] I provided the bulk of my rant in November, so I won't repeat most of it, but I will reaffirm that being a liberal doesn't keep me from voting based on my moral values - quite the contrary, in fact.

I wasn't paying much attention to the television last night, so the 700 Club came on without my noticing. The line that attracted my attention, and got it turned off, was something to the effect of "...and I am putting the President on notice, if he does not do this, he will be acting against the direct instructions of God." Part of me wishes I'd heard the specific issue in question. Interesting to see that apparently Bush isn't always the golden child of the religious extremists. The other part of me is just as glad not to have heard whatever it was. No matter how much I despise having others' morals and beliefs forced upon me, I despise still more having it take the force of law. To me, it leaves the sour taste of venturing far too close to establishing a state religion, despite the First Amendment. [2] As with much of the rest of my concerns about current American politics, it's a "slippery slope" question - while overtly everything is legitimate, I worry that the trends might continue until we end up with a theocracy.

However, it's far too easy to slide down the opposite side of the mountain as well. That brings me to my third definition of right, the kind that is represented in the Bill of Rights. Social history lesson: One of the major factors driving the colonization of what became the United States was the search for the religious right, the right to practice religious beliefs other than the Church of England. Some of the colonies became enclaves of particular denominations, others supported religious freedom in general. As a consequence, one of the initial concerns about the new country being formed was that it might select a particular denomination as the official church. Thus, the First Amendment prohibits just that, and preserves the religious right for all the people, whatever their faith might be. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

It does NOT actually dictate a complete separation of church and state, despite that being the popular phrase. There is no reason a minister cannot run for political office, nor any reason not to use church function rooms as polling places. Congress cannot pass a law requiring prayer in schools, but they also can't pass one forbidding it.

It irritates me to hear that there is an atheist suing to take the "under God" back out of the Pledge of Allegiance because it violates his family's First Amendment rights. It's been in and out, so I can't claim it's traditional, or a hardship to change (God forbid [irony noted] they should try to take it off the money). However, if you honestly don't believe in a God, then what harm does it do to permit the rest of us our faith? One of the things that I learned from my Philosophy of Religion class is that while there is no way to conclusively prove the existence of God, proving that it is logical to believe in God is straightforward. [3] Besides, isn't it a little ironic to cite the First Amendment in an attempt to prohibit the free exercise of religion? Perhaps I just don't have the facts correct; it's been known to happen, and all I know is what I've been told. I'd have a lot more sympathy for a Muslim or a Hindu or a pagan of any variety, claiming that it establishes the Christian God - that would be true, for one thing. However, it seems that to date the non-Christians have all managed to interpret God to refer to their respective versions of divinity as well.

In contrast to the guy with the lawsuit, I also heard a story a while ago about an atheist who delivered the invocation for some event. From what I recall, what he actually said was not particularly inspiring or focusing in any way, but at least he was invited and chose to accept it in the spirit that was intended. I can certainly imagine someone delivering a short speech invoking individual ambition, community spirit, or a number of other ideals, which would make an appropriate atheist invocation.

In the long run, it's a fine line between the right to practice my own religion and the right to not have others' thrust upon me. It's particularly difficult because of the groups with the belief that they must try to convince others they are right. For me, it really depends on the approach used as well; some summers I've invited Jehovah's Witnesses in for a glass of lemonade and a chat about what they wanted to tell me. Sometimes I don't even out-quote them. It's much like telemarketers, in that if I'm in a good mood, they won't succeed in selling me anything, but I'll at least be civil. If they're rude to me, I can go from zero to Bitch in nothing flat.

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[1] Ohio was the state that decided the election this year. Ohio had an amendment on the ballot outlawing gay marriage. Voter turnout was exceptionally high, especially among conservative voters, in order to vote on this issue. As a side effect, the conservative vote for the Presidential election was also increased. I don't recall whether it was also up in any of the other swing states.

[2] Most schoolchildren learn at some point that antidisestablishmentarianism is the longest word in the English language. It isn't. However, it may well be the longest word that most people, even well-educated ones, will ever have need to use in conversation. In this case, I am accusing members of the Religious Right of antidisestablishmentarianism: the philosophy and ideology of opposing the separation of church and state. And I'm so much of a geek I couldn't just casually drop it into the rant, but had to give it a footnote to point out just how cool it is that I'm using the word.

[3] This is from a Judeo-Christian background, so I'm not sure it applies universally. This is certainly not an attempt to force anything on anyone. The argument goes as follows: You have two yes-or-no questions, "Does God exist?" and "Do you believe in God?", for a total of four possibilities. A) God exists and you believe in God. Assuming you do the rest of what you think you're supposed to, you're all set. B) God does not exist but you believe in God anyway. Does it do children any lasting harm to believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, or Santa Claus? C) God does not exist and you do not believe in God. Aside from being despised by people who do believe, there's no Big Punishment looming. D) God exists, but you do not believe in God. In this case, if God is vengeful, or if there is something to be saved from, you'll be in trouble. Summarized, if God doesn't exist, it doesn't matter what you believe, but if God does exist you're much better off if you do believe.

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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
collacentaur
Feb. 8th, 2005 04:48 pm (UTC)
*grin* And I lose my bet with myself.
(Deleted comment)
collacentaur
Feb. 8th, 2005 08:40 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I bet myself that soupkills would say something about floccinaucinihilipilification (the form I learned it in) within 24 hours. Didn't occur to me that you'd get it in first.
(Deleted comment)
palingyuan
Feb. 9th, 2005 08:34 am (UTC)
Thank you, very well said. I love listening to your viewpoints on issues of religion and politics. My belief in uniformitarianism is feeling a little small now, but it is still better than catastrophysm.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )