Where Is the Right’s Rhetoric of Religious Strife Taking Us?

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    ( – promoted by lowkell)

    Our Founders were well-versed in history, and much of the history they knew was a chronicle of religious war.  For more than a century, Europe was racked by conflict along religious lines between Catholics and the Protestants who’d broken away from the Roman church.  Waves of English immigration to these shores reflected the shifting fortunes of different religious groups as first one group was persecuted and then, following revolution, another.



    They knew how religious disputes could tear a country apart.

    From these lessons, they designed a Constitution for us to keep religious conflicts from poisoning our politics:  Everyone would enjoy freedom of religion, and in matters of religion, the state would remain neutral rather than establishing an officially endorsed religious position.  

    Now comes today’s Republican Party animated by a very different spirit, indeed the very spirit that our Founders sought to keep out of our political affairs.

    While the Republican candidate for president currently leading in the national polls attacks the sitting president on theological grounds, Virginia has become the latest state in which Republican law-makers are pushing a “personhood” amendment that would place profound limits on the reproductive rights of American couples.

    The “personhood” amendment is premised on an answer to the question, “At what point has an emerging human life become a human being entitled to all the rights and protections we afford to our citizens?”  

    The answer the advocates of “personhood” give — that the only crucial point is the moment of conception— is based on religious belief.  It would have to be based on some such beliefs, because it is not a question that admits of a purely factual answer.  Other people have come to other beliefs from those of the advocates of “personhood.”

    So where are these Republicans —who want to use the power of the state to compel the actions of all to conform to the religious beliefs of some— taking us?

    The spirit our founders put into the Constitution was one of “live and let live.”  We’re entitled to believe that our own views are the only right ones, and that those who hold different views are wrong and even going to hell.  But the power of the state is not supposed to be wielded as a club in the battle of these views: we each get to live according to our own beliefs about what’s right, and we accept that others of our fellow citizens will make choices, in accordance with their own beliefs, that we may think very wrong.

    If live and let live is not good enough for these Republican religious warriors when it comes to such things as the use of hormonal birth control, where’s the limit to how far they’d push the use of state power to make other Americans conform to their religious beliefs.

    If these Republicans are not willing to allow people to follow their own conscience, and act according to their own answers to questions like defining the point in development at which a human life becomes sacred, on what matters WILL they respect the autonomy in matters of religion that our founders sought to give us?

    It was deep insight that led our founders to wish to protect religion from government, and government from religion.

    The only place where our founders mention religion in the body of the Constitution, and not in the First Amendment, is where they say that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

    Yet here is Rick Santorum campaigning for president by attacking the incumbent for his “false theology,” turning political disagreements into religious conflicts.

    Where does this end?

    In an article in Esquire, Charles P. Pierce writes of Santorum’s attempt to transform our politics into religious strife: “The rhetoric he has adopted comes from a history charred by fire, and sodden with blood.

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    Andy Schmookler is running for Congress in the 6th Congressional District of Virginia, challenging the incumbent Congressman, Bob Goodlatte.  An award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, Andy moved with his family to Shenandoah County in 1992.  He is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.  

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    • mechenvy

      The attitude of the GOP that government staying silent on religious matters equals active persecution of Christianity is extremely dangerous to our society. I see a multi-step argument to make here that should proceed over several months, focusing on one step alone until it is common wisdom, then undertaking the next step. (1) The GOP is attempting to use the power of the state inappropriately. This argument is being carried and won right now. It needs to be pounded for another couple of weeks. (2) The impulse behind this overreach comes from personal interpretations of religion by some extremists in the GOP who are self-righteous enough to want to use government to impose their religious views on the rest of society. As Andy says, this flies in the face of the Founders’ intent and leads down a path that history tells us always ends badly. (3) This is a critical step — the entire GOP has aided and abetted this anti-American misuse of state power. The GOP does not get to claim that this was an aberration among a small wing of their “big tent” and it’s all fixed now. They all rode that horse in and they need to all ride it out. (4) Final step: Thus always it is with the GOP in one form or another, therefore they cannot be trusted to hold power anywhere, anytime. Step 4 needs to hit its stride, say, early October 2012.