International House of Dan: Faith No More

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Faith No More

It's time to address evangelical Christians, the reactionary Bible-beaters who are trying to return America to it's moral standing of yesteryear (according to them) or completely strip us of our freedom and subject us to theocracy (according to me). Let me preface this by admitting that I will roll all manner of religions when I write about "Christians": I will not split hairs over the differences between Baptists, Southern Baptists, Methodists, First Church of I Love Jesus, or whatever. It should become clear which groups I'm referring to, and if it isn't, well... sorry.

Today, the House is debating stem-cell research, the promise that it holds and the notion that America should be at the forefront of this groundbreaking technology. The two bills in question*, H.R. 596 (funding for umbilical cord blood stem cells) and H.R. 810 (funding for embryonic stem cells) enjoy widespread bipartisan support, but President Bush has already threatened to veto legislation to promote stem-cell use, particularly H.R. 810, because he views the destruction of embryos as contrary to his Christian beliefs. My dislike of evangelicals in politics has been stewing for some time, and I think this opposition to life-saving research, to securing our global leadership in emerging technologies, to science, has finally moved me to action.

The Christian right's assault on science and secularism has taken on many forms under President Bush's watch. We've seen the Ten Commandments popping up all over the place, a push to teach creationism (sorry, but I'm not inclined to adopt the innocent-sounding "intelligent design") in schools, cuts in needed foreign aid unless programs conform to Christian teachings, successful campaigns to eradicate the epidemic that (apparently) is gay marriage, the erosion of women's right to choose, and much, much more. In each of these cases, a Christian viewpoint pushes for action along lines which run counter to science and public policy. Let me be clear about the latter: in balancing interests when shaping policy, "community standards and morals" can be a factor to consider, but they are currently being allowed to trump other factors and they are not being based on the morals of the affected community, they are being handed down from one of many competing views. It is a very specific brand of Christianity that is used to define what public morality ought to be: the loud one.

The scientific and education community agree that evolution should be taught, and that creationism should not; in the fight against global AIDS, aid groups and governments should be expected to take whatever action best addresses the crisis, regardless of the moral objections of some in the donor nation; brain research is increasingly suggesting that homosexuality is no more a choice than race, and that benefits arise from same-sex marriage; medical groups support the legality of safe abortion despite the moral objections of some. The people we should be listening to on these matters, doctors, teachers, aid groups, etc. are being shouted down by the crazy bible lady down the street who won't let her children watch The Simpsons because it's sinful. The recent rash of Ten Commandment displays in public places (I have no data to support this, but I expect that in Red states there have been 3 such displays for every gay couple who tried to marry) may not have opposition rooted in the scientific community, but it follows the same pattern of policy-making and it certainly fuels the assault on science: can a community that feels so strongly about Jesus that it builds a monument on government grounds really be expected to sit idly by while that government strays from Jesus's teachings? Apparently not, and that brings me to my other beef with evangelicals: they are like locusts.

Religious freedom as envisioned by the framers likely focused less on the right of private citizens to convert their neighbors than it did on the right of the neighbors to be free from conversion by the government. It is especially telling that it is this American brand of Christianity, hell-bent on proselytizing (that was intentional) that keeps trying to take over the government: I promise that as you travel the world, you will not find people wearing "Jesus" t-shirts, or "Mohammed" or "Buddha" or "Vishnu" t-shirts for that matter. These people seem to be unique to America, their closest relatives being Islamic fundamentalists who do not wear t-shirts with slogans on them. These people are not content with their own righteousness, the world must be equally accepting of their God (who strangely seems to be not God, but Jesus). These people who find it more important that their children yell at frightened teenagers entering an abortion clinic than that they go to school and learn about the world, because obviously intimidation was Jesus's tactic of choice, these are the people who are driving this insane shift in our policies.

There was a recent piece in the Times and then again later on NPR about evangelicals in Ivy League schools. It was disturbing that these people are seeping out of the South and infiltrating secular America to the point that someone decides to write about it. It seems that it's partly the fault of the G.I. Bill, because good patriotic God-fearing Americans who went to war got more access to education, better jobs, and now their equally God-fearing children get to go to Brown and join a bible study (support group) to talk about how offensive their heathen professors are. There is much talk about hostility towards Christianity in the current political and legal environments, but this is simply a P.R. stunt. There is a perceived hostility only because courts tell evangelical Christians that they are not allowed to do what their faith inherently requires: go "save" everyone else around them. The hostility is not directed at Christians, it is directed at religious groups who try to use the state to spread their beliefs, it just so happens that in America only Christians do that.

In order to really understand this, and in order to wrap this up, consider the reactions of various religious groups with regard to church and state separation. Do we ever hear about the positions of Jewish, Catholic, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, or Amish groups on stem-cell research? On evolution? On foreign aid that includes abortion counseling? No, we usually don't, and I venture to guess that on these and other issues, when these religions' views are opposed to the government's they do not seek to impose themselves on it. These groups don't go out and build monuments on public property, they don't challenge academic curricula, and they don't try to make their God, their prayers, or their religious slogans a part of the daily political life of their community. The Christian right is the only group that is not content with being free from discrimination, it considers itself under assault when it is not given a prominent place from which to sermon the rest of us.

* When links to legislation have expired, simply type in the bill number in Thomas and it will direct you to them.


Anonymous Danielle said...

- Many Christians believe that Jesus and God are one and the same. He made His Son in the image of Himself as a sacrifice. Even the Catholic Bible teaches you that.
- There needs to be a separation of Church and State. Leading someone in despair (i.e. suicidal, athiest, depressed, lost) to faith in God is one thing. Imposing one idea of religion on an entire country, let alone multiple countries throughout the world is entirely radical and not our place to do so. Faith is just that - Faith. It starts to loose its meaning when you feel it necessary to force others to share your same views. If Christians believe in their God, then they should accept the idea of Free Will. You concentrate on your personal relationship with your God, and don't worry so much about your neighbor's salvation. ...That's not to say be numb to their needs, but that doesn't give you the right to put legislation into effect binding their ability to have Free Will either.
- Our country's screwed up and the most logical answer would be for Christians to start living like Christians... Love your neighbor, don't lie, and let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

25 May, 2005 10:50  

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