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By Bill Shunas
At a used book sale, I picked up a copy of American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips, a former Republican strategist. The section on religion—mainly fundamentalist—and its influence on our politics was enlightening and depressing. I'm not a religious person, but I used to have some respect for the moral standards held by the various religions. One of the things I used to like (although I must have not been paying attention) is that there seemed to be acceptance of the separation of church and state. I'm most familiar with the Christians in whose Bible there is word of good stuff like feeding the poor, truth-telling, standing for justice and equality. I would imagine that one finds the same sort of thing in the Koran and the Torah and the teachings of Buddha, Sikhs, and others.
On the downside, religions have contributed to the justification of things like war, various slaughters and other kinds of mayhem as well as various intrusions into our lives including the repression of women and the denial of the role of science and its importance to the betterment of our lives. These backward ideas usually come from perceived orders from above, often the Old Testament. For example, if you like war check out the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel. He colluded with God to pursue violence among those who made God unhappy, including the slaying of those who didn't toe the line, sometimes including their children. Lots of dying requested. Maybe the Islamic State was paying attention.
In this day and age, fundamentalists in the various religions are active in asserting their influence on the political front in this country and around the world to promote militarism. For a small number, that means taking up the sword (or suicide vest or tank or car bomb). For most, it means exerting influence on government policy. These are the forms of the modern crusades. This country is no different. Some over-the-top fundamentalists may use violence. However, for most, the greatest activity is centered in exerting their influence on the government and its policies. They have bonded with the Republican Party. And they have had a measure of success. Their high point so far was during the W years. He is a born-again, and he brought that with him to the White House. It was worse than Ron and Nancy Reagan relying on their astrologer. In addition to the control of oil in the Middle East, Bush marched us toward war in Iraq for a couple of religious reasons. It was a crusade of good against evil. Some of the fundamentalists thought that Saddam Hussein was the anti-Christ. Others disagreed about that but still wanted to go there to fulfill the preparations of Revelations. The end time will bring war to the holy land so you might as well send in the fleet.
Bush and his fellow travelers had long thought about war in the Middle East and 9-11 gave them their justification so they took up the sword with this new opportunity. After all, these were the holy lands where these battles were to take place. So, we marched into Iraq. Things got so bad under Bush that decisions were made in compliance with fundamentalist beliefs rather than what would be rational policy. A religious culture was now in the White House and the government. The General Services Administration even had Pentecostal-type services at lunchtime in the building. W openly talked about being born-again and being there to do God's work.
War wasn't the only disastrous idea that came from having this born-again and his fundamentalist cohorts running government. Because science contradicted the Bible in so many ways, science was ignored. The looming problem of climate change was ignored. Stem cell research was stifled despite the medical progress it could bring. Reproduction rights were suppressed. Anything having to do with increasing the rights of women is dismissed as contradictory to a fundamentalist who still thinks of women as property. Anything having to do with sex was avoided. This included suppressing treatment for cervical cancer. The list goes on. All of this because these people think the end is coming so it's a waste of time to change or because they think science and human rights contradict the Bible. This is the most insidious aspect of this influence of religion on politics. They are focused on the end times prophecies, themselves and their salvation and their perverted way of getting there.
Now Trump is president, and he gets a lot of support from evangelicals and fundamentalists. To me, this looks like big-time hypocrisy. Whatever they think about Trump's policies, many of his supporters wouldn't argue that his life is a mess. This is not a principled man. So what does it say that he gets support from these religious people? How craven is it to kiss this president's ass so that you can get your way to fight a religious war or intrude into lives by banning abortion or interfering with a person's health or sexual life or personal life just because you think your Bible so commands.
There's a quote from Bill Moyers during the Bush years. "One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington." Beyond individual goals, there isn't much thought other than focusing on creating a Christian state making America into God's vehicle for the redemption of mankind. For the individual, fundamentalism gets you focused on individual salvation. Why be concerned about greenhouse gases? You'd think religion should be concerned about justice and equality. Many individuals may be, but that comes from personal integrity, not religion. This leads to a kind of American Exceptionalism, which defines our role. America is supposed to be God's vehicle for the redemption of mankind. Solutions will come based on faith and backed by a government of born-agains or maybe a stooge (Trump) of born-agains. This nonsense has unfortunately become part of the political landscape. I would think that it would eventually wear itself out, but history is full of fundamentalist principles having political influence.
Bill Shunas is a Vietnam veteran, author, and long-time VVAW member.