James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Face up to the religious right

"God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them." — George W. Bush, June, 2003.

We liberals have a terrible time dealing with religion in politics, and so mostly we don’t. We pretend that a Jerry Falwell or Jimmy Swaggart is just another preacher, as legitimate and godly as the decent men and women who occupy the pulpits at the steepled churches, and the temples down the block and around the corner.

If some nutter of a judge decides to erect and maintain a monument containing the Ten Commandments on his courthouse lawn, or in his court room, we disapprove, but keep our mouths shut. We’re happy if the Civil Liberties Union or some gutty atheist takes on the judge, but we usually keep our heads down and our mouths shut.

We’ll argue, write letters to the editor, sign petitions against Bush’s attacks on civil rights, the environment, the working poor, but we seldom say a word in public when he claims that he has a direct connection to God. People who believe in an authoritarian religion see that no one openly disputes his claim, observe that their pulpit-pounding preachers back the man, and figure he must be right.

Many of those preachers call from the pulpit for Bush’s election, and we say nothing. Extremist clergymen boost Bush and deride his opponents in all sorts of venues and we do not challenge them. They intone prayers for Bush’s victory before legislative bodies and at public gatherings and most of us bow our heads and remain silent. We should be questioning the tax-exempt status of their organizations, but we don't.

In late September, the Republican Party – not some right wing splinter group, but the party itself – sent mass mailings to citizens of Arkansas and West Virginia claiming that if elected, "liberals" will ban the Bible. No, they weren’t saying that John Kerry and other Democrats would not support the Christian agenda; they said and meant that the Bible literally would be outlawed.

The mailings, in full color, showed a picture of a Bible with the word "Banned" stamped across it and a photo of one man placing a wedding band on the finger of another man with the word "Allowed" on the picture.

A Bush campaign Web site attacks Kerry, a Roman Catholic, for being "wrong for Catholics."

You know what? The religious extremists are creaming us because we won’t fight back. They don’t care about American tradition or the U.S. Constitution. They are out to impose their brand of Christianity on all of us and they’re on their way to success.

They’ve become important in the presidential and congressional campaigns, and they’re almost literally in charge on a wide variety of extremely important issues in this country. They’ve called the shots on stem cell research and several other issues where extreme fundamentalism gets crosswise with science. They are driving the attacks on civil liberties for gays and, ultimately, for all of us. If their surrogates win this election, Roe v. Wade will be reversed. Religion – the right-wing Christian version -- will be thrust into public education in a big way. Courts, and this is no joke, will be under great pressure to look first to the fundamentalist reading of the Bible and only secondarily to civil law in making decisions. That’s already been made part of more than one bill introduced in Congress. (No, not kidding.)
But right now, the extremist Bible thumpers attack and we say meekly, "Everyone has a right to his or her beliefs." We say, "I won’t fight on religious grounds" and lose again.

It is, of course, an article of faith (so to speak) among the entrenched Democratic Party leaders that one never says anything critical of anyone else’s religious declaration, nor does one ever attack or even publicly contradict a "religious leader," no matter how vile, untruthful or hateful that person’s statements or positions.

That, folks, is stupidity bordering on insanity, and the fact that current party leadership embraces the position should be enough to call it into question. Silence in the face of repression and aggression is the next thing to approval. It also is cowardly.

When Pat Robertson publicly declares George W. Bush "a prophet," as he did not long ago, we should answer with loud laughter and raspberries. When the despicable Jimmy Swaggart makes one of his hateful attacks on gays or others of his favorite targets – he threatened on the air in late September to kill any gay man who "looks at me like that," meaning romantically – we should shout our anger, demand responses from those, including Bush, whom he supports. We must call for appropriate action.

The FCC, ever so righteous under present leadership, fined CBS $550,000 for Janet Jackson’s bare boob. So far it has issued not a peep about Swaggart’s death threat, although his program runs in all 50 states. The Canadian station on which Swaggert’s threat was aired has apologized to the public.

(It would be appropriate to drop Chairman Michael Powell a note. His email address is Michael.Powell@fcc.gov); other FCC commissioners are Kathleen Abernathy, Michael J. Copps, Kevin J. Martin and Jonathan S. Adelstein. Email adresses are: Kathleen.Abernathy@fcc.gov; Michael.Copps@fcc.gov; KJMWEB@fcc.gov and mailto:Johathan.Adelstein@fcc.gov. )

It couldn’t hurt to point out, when the topic arises, that while Swaggart’s rants may nudge others toward violence, he probably has nothing to worry about personally. Can you imagine anyone, male or female, finding that scowling, slack-jawed visage attractive?

Beginning in the 1950s and running well into the 1970s, a great many demagogues, racists and haters of all descriptions lost their power because the majority of citizens got fed up with them. They and their supporters were publicly ridiculed as well as reviled. When we overheard racist remarks in public places, we told the fools who made them that we wouldn’t put up with their nonsense. When people of color, or gays or anyone was threatened, we stood up together and told their tormenters to shove off – and we didn’t say it nicely. Most importantly, we laughed at the fools for their ignorance and stupidity – and most people, if laughed at by their peers, will recognize, finally, that they are wrong. If they don’t change, and some will, at least they shut up.

We didn’t get rid of all the racism and other hateful beliefs, of course, but we converted a surprising number of people to rational acceptance of others, and we let the haters know they and their views were not welcome in reasonable society.

But somehow we liberals have become afraid of the haters who cloak their nastiness in religion. We stand mute in the face of their attacks on decent society.

"I trust God speaks through me," says George W. Bush. (Yes, he really said that.)

If you believe that, you’re crazier than he is, and if you let it go unchallenged, you’re signing away your country.

We have to stand up again, locate our backbones again and face down the haters in clerical masquerade. It is more essential than ridding ourselves of Bush & Co. in the upcoming elections, and the time to start is this minute.