Proving God by Consensus: My Problem with the Religious Right
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13-10-2011, 06:52 PM
 
Proving God by Consensus: My Problem with the Religious Right
A few decades ago I was awakened at seven o’clock one Sunday morning by the persistent droning of my downstairs door buzzer. I was living then in a back apartment on the top floor of an East Village walk-up that was without an intercom or the capacity to buzz visitors inside. This circumstance made it necessary for me to descend five flights of stairs to personally open the frosted-glass front door and to see who it was.

In this instance it was two Jehovah’s Witnesses.

At the time I bore no animus toward people who presented themselves as fervently religious. Though I deemed them delusional, I respected both their right to their delusion and their need of it. The proselytizers I encountered were more likely to draw pity from me than to provoke my ire.

So if I had good reason to be put out by the inconvenience they’d caused me, an inconvenience compounded by the ungodly hour they’d picked to pay a call, my reaction to the elderly and finely attired black couple with soft Georgia accents who greeted me—he with a bible in one hand and a straw hat in the other; she wearing a hat bedecked with white and yellow flowers—wasn’t in the least bit hostile. In fact, while I made it clear that I had no use for the message they were delivering, I was as courteous as I could be. I didn’t want to tamper with their fantasy or hurt their feelings and when I closed the door on them it was very gently.

But that was a while back, before religion assumed the weight and influence that it has in our cultural and political affairs and before I understood just where the so-called “True Believers” are coming from.

We tend to allow that, unhinged as we may judge them to be, evangelicals, in their efforts to make converts or to bring “more religion” into the culture, are doing the work of a God they feel with genuine confidence to be real. Some of us might even imagine that they care about our salvation. But this isn’t what’s happening. Dealing with their fear of death, a fear exacerbated by 9/11 and the destruction of the myth of American invincibility, and wanting desperately for a God and the potential for eternal life implicit in the concept of God to exist, the real mission of these people isn’t to share a revelation but to validate beliefs they’re not sure of by securing the agreement of others. To prove the existence of God to themselves by achieving a universal consensus on the matter (the only way to achieve something like certainty about anything) is the true aspiration of the religious right.

And I mightily resent the manifold ways in which their ambition to, for starters, make a theocracy of America—a more than adequate means of certifying their beliefs—is already poisoning the lives of the rest of us.

I’m speaking, of course, of their interference with a woman’s freedom to end a pregnancy and of homosexuals ability to marry one another. I’m also talking about the brakes they managed to apply to government sponsored stem-cell research and the role they played in obliging us to endure a George W. Bush for a second term (let alone what his presidency has left in its wake) because he professed to share their faith in Jesus Christ. And I’m referring as well to what turned out to be a politically pivotal quantity of Tea Party candidates that they were instrumental in electing to Congress.

And, again, none of this has been, at bottom, to the purpose of spreading a vision (which could maybe have claimed some level of legitimacy), but rather to, in their own minds, ratify by numbers, law or custom, the presence of a deity.

Since there remains a sufficient population of heathens to challenge their beliefs and to keep their uncertainty alive, reaching their unspoken goal will only become more urgent for the evangelicals. They will get louder and more insistent. And their successes will be more pernicious. Is a President Rick Perry completely out of the question?

I should say that having a few issues of my own with the prospect of death, and quite capable myself of distorting reality in order to live in the world with a semblance of equilibrium, I can, even under the present conditions, experience some empathy for the Christian right’s agenda. (And I can also appreciate the necessity and durability of religion itself. I’m always taken aback when people whose minds I admire predict that human beings will one day “outgrow” the need for religion, as if it were merely a stage in our evolution. Like the biologists who are looking for a religion gene, they miss the point. For as long as death is a precondition of life, a need for some kind of invented deity, with a plan for mankind—and a collection of rules and practices which, if scrupulously followed, offer the promise of an afterlife—is going to prevail for a large percentage of humanity.)

But while I’m not insensitive to the evangelicals’ cause that doesn’t make its increasing encroachment on the lives of the secular any more acceptable to me. I repeat: Is a President Rick Perry out of the question? No. If there was once a time when we could indulge the folks of the Christian right at no substantial cost to ourselves, that’s not the case any longer. Their quest to conscript us into their immortality project has gotten too much out of hand and leaves no room for such generosity. At this point there’s little choice but to do battle with them; to fight and resist their actions at every turn. The consequences for those of us who live for this life rather than the next one have become too dire to let them slide.
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13-10-2011, 08:31 PM (This post was last modified: 14-10-2011 12:48 AM by cufflink.)
RE: Proving God by Consensus: My Problem with the Religious Right
Welcome to the forum, Robert, and thanks for your articulate first post.

It's an interesting idea that the evangelicals' true purpose is to validate their beliefs to themselves through consensus. That would imply doubt and insecurity, though, and I don't see a lot of evidence for that in their rhetoric. I guess it could all be bluster, but they seem rather confident in their beliefs. Wink I wonder if the main reason for their activity isn't simply that they want to increase the strength of their side. There's power in numbers. More believers equals more votes.

As for religion having fairly recently assumed "the weight and influence that it has in our cultural and political affairs," I understand where you're coming from, but I wonder if that holds up in the big picture. First of all, religion has always played a large part in American culture and politics. Did you see Ken Burns's recent PBS series on the history of Prohibition in the U.S.? That disaster was spearheaded by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, members of which invaded saloons and prayed with the "sinners." I'm old enough to remember when Bible readings were the norm in public schools. My father used to have to pay a fine every year in New York because he closed his shop on Saturday and opened on Sunday, contrary to the "blue laws." None of that is possible today. As an indication of how far we've come in freeing ourselves of the power of fundamentalist religious thought, think about the advances gay people have made: same-sex marriage legal in six states and DC, gay people can now serve openly in the military, positive gay role models in the media . . . things that were unthinkable decades ago.

This article from ABC News 2 1/2 years ago provides some encouraging statistics:

Quote:America is still a predominantly Christian nation, but it's becoming both less Christian and less religious, according to the results of the new American Religious Identification Survey.

According to the poll, which came out today, the percentage of Americans who define themselves as Christian has dropped from 86 percent in 1990 to 76 percent in 2008.

In one of the most dramatic shifts, 15 percent of Americans now say they have no religion -- a figure that's almost doubled in 18 years. Americans with no religious preference are now larger than all other major religious groups except Catholics and Baptists. . . .

In the last 18 years, despite population growth and immigration, almost all religious denominations have lost ground. Mainline Protestants are down the most. Methodists, for example, have gone from 8 to 5 percent.

Baptists are down from 19.3 to 15.8. And Jews are down from 1.8 to 1.2 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of atheists, while still small, has nearly doubled from 900,000 to 1.6 million. Kosmin says that people may feel more comfortable admitting their lack of faith at a time when atheist books, like Christopher Hitchens' "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" and movies are getting a lot of attention. Comedian Bill Maher took aim at religion in his documentary film "Religulous," saying that he preaches "the gospel of 'I Don't Know.'"

The news is not all good: Evangelicals have made the largest gains among Christians. So the battles are hardly over. But I can't help but feel positive about the direction things are going.

As for "President Perry"--words that cause a shudder if not a gag reflex--I don't think there's much of a chance of that. Obama would wipe the floor with him in a debate. And there's enough ill will left against Shrub that the majority of Americans couldn't stomach another know-nothing red-neck Texan in the White House, whether or not he loves Jesus. (And I really, really hope I won't have to eat those words next year.)

JWs at your door at 7:00 AM Sunday morning? Not the sharpest knives in the drawer, are they. Your forbearance was admirable.

Religious disputes are like arguments in a madhouse over which inmate really is Napoleon.
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