I don’t know from religion, I’ll admit it. I’ve never read the bible in its entirety, wasn’t particularly impressed as a child by the stories of jesus distributing bread, dropping bread crumbs (or was that Hansel and Gretel?) and walking on water, and never quite caught on to the whole concept of some benevolent grandfather type watching over us. After I fell and skinned my knee a few times and wasn’t immediately healed, I lost interest. I’m clearly not a believer, by a long shot, but “atheist” seems to be a word that’s chock full of implications. For lack of a better term, I could call myself a completely disinterested agnostic . . . I’m not sure what the term is for someone who is neither a doubter nor a believer, and simply couldn’t care less.
But I have found myself with a renewed interest in religion – and it started, oh, sometime in 2008. My renewed interest doesn’t involve attending church, reading the good book, praying or witnessing to others. What it does involve is a rabidly hostile stance against christianity. So, what does it take to turn a completely disinterested observer into someone hostile to religion? I’ll tell you what it takes: It takes Sarah Palin, Christine O’Donnell, Ron and Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and many, many other right-wing fanatics who have injected a lethal dose of religion into our politics.
My Facebook group partner and co-administrator of the website politicsanonymous.com, Jueseppi B., who does hold religious beliefs, wrote an article about religion entitled simply “Religion,” and, to quote him, “God has told NOBODY to run for elected office, that is a lie. God does not punish people from the LGBT community, with natural disasters or HIV, that is a lie. God does not want Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann to be POTUS, that is a lie. I believe God wants us to live right, do whats right, and be an example for the youth by being right in how we live daily.”
In a perfect world, Jueseppi B. would be correct. But this is a country driven and divided by polar ideologies, a country where being “religious” is simply a check mark in the proper column for a right-wing politician pandering to a far-right religious base, a country where being a christian is no longer, as Jueseppi B noted, about doing what’s right, but is instead about using “god” as a social engineer the likes of which our country has rarely, if ever, seen, and using “god” to justify hate.
From being told, as a child, that god was a gray-haired kindly man (and, okay, not really believing it even then), I’ve evolved into envisioning the right-wing god as a stern-faced, burly dude draped in a confederate flag, wielding a shotgun, ready to shoot anyone who’s gay, pro-choice, poor, a minority, a liberal, or in a union – particularly a public sector union. If anyone has created a hostile environment toward religion, it’s those on the right who claim to embrace it while their actions deny all claims to any classic religious teachings.
Where the hell did Jueseppi’s god go, anyway? Sarah Palin began to blow the dog whistle for the right-wing religious fringe during the 2008 presidential campaign. While calling then-candidate Obama a guy who “pals around with terrorists,” and accusing him of being essentially anti-American because he was that scary “other” – certainly not displaying that all-important biblical love for her fellow man – she simultaneously staked out a personal position as a religious deity who should be revered for her god-love. Many of us watched in jaw-dropping astonishment as she spewed hatred in the name of god – and people bought it. At that point, I began to conclude, one, that the country was full of whack jobs, and two, that religion was evil – not because she said it, but because so few spoke against her.
And this was all before we learned of her worldviews, developed within her Wasilla pentecostal church, that god pretty much dictated when and if politicians ran for office, whether wars would be fought and who would be called to the task of fighting them: ” . . . [O]ur leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God . . . That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan.” Her pastor in that radical Wasilla church said that “I’m not going tell you who to vote for, but if you vote for this particular person [John Kerry], I question your salvation . . . .” Palin herself, despite her ties to a church that was not exactly mainstream, felt free to criticize President Obama’s relationship with Reverend Wright and the fairly typical church on Chicago’s south side where the Obama family worshiped. Despite her own ties to a Kenyan preacher who laid hands on her and prayed to keep her safe from all forms of “witchcraft,” Palin nevertheless failed to respect others’ religious beliefs, particularly those of our President, whose faith she repeatedly called into question. She re-tweeted a photo of a church captioned “The Blood of Jesus Against Obama.” None of this was politics, it was personal . . . and religion has been used by Palin – and others – as the sledgehammer to attempt to, one, destroy a man who does now, and has always, embraced christianity, and two, deny basic humanitarian and civil rights to the rest of us.
Christine O’Donnell, if elected to the Senate, would have no doubt tried to pass a bill outlawing masturbation – all in the name of religion. Rick Santorum believes there should be no daylight between religion and government, and would probably attempt to make the bible a substitute for the Constitution, if elected. Despite his sketchy background filled with infidelities and the trading up of wives, Newt Gingrich has re-invented himself as a Catholic. Due to her religious beliefs, which could also be defined as “cultish,” praying away the gay would only be a start were Bachmann elected president. She has referred to gays as practicing “sexual anarchy” and accused them of wanting to recruit 8-year-old boys into homosexuality; her husband, Marcus – who she has publicly admitted to “submitting” to – called gays “barbarians.” The bible calls for the death penalty for homosexual acts – is this, too, on the Bachmann agenda?
Herman Cain professes to believe in the separation of church and state, but believes a community should also have the right to prevent Muslims from building a mosque – and stated publicly he wouldn’t hire a Muslim in his administration, if elected. Perry’s recent cult, er, religious event, designed to demonstrate his hard right christian belief system – and, non-believers need not apply, as they were made very not welcome – was a dog whistle to the anti-abortion fanatics and cult followers. And, because no religious discussion is complete without Palin and then more Palin, as the Huffington Post noted, Palin has a bit of trouble with the whole Constitution thing, believing religion to be one of its foundations: “Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant — they’re quite clear — that we would create law based on the God of the bible and the ten commandments.”
I tried to stay indifferent, I really did. I’ve tried to believe that this batch of wingnuts isn’t really symbolic of the entire christian population – but if not, who’s buying this hogswallop? As an atheist/agnostic/I don’t give a crap individual, I don’t have any interest in standing in the way of anyone’s religious beliefs . . . except that now, the religious beliefs are standing in the way of my beliefs – in the way of equality and tolerance and a national environment built on compassion. The only christians I’m hearing from these days are the ones who want to use a sledgehammer against everyone who doesn’t share their far right, extreme religious leanings. The only christians I’m hearing from these days are the ones who believe aid to the poor and disaster relief is somehow unconstitutional. The only christians I’m hearing from these days are the ones who don’t believe women know what we’re aborting (maybe we think a kumquat is growing in there?) and need to be shown pictures and forced to endure counseling before we obtain a legal medical procedure. The only christians I’m hearing from these days are the ones who would make homosexuality a hanging crime. The only christians I’m hearing from these days are the ones who believe children should be force-fed religion in school but be denied learning about alternative lifestyles. The only christians I’m hearing from these days are the ones who believe that evolution is a “theory” with a “some gaps in it.”
And here’s the thing – the squeaky right-wing religious fanatic wheel that’s getting all the grease is being allowed to manage and direct and control the dialogue for the true christians in this country. Until I see the sane side of christianity – particularly in the form of politicians – loudly proclaiming that the politicians who take pride in religious fanaticism don’t speak for them, I will no doubt continue to view religion as a cobra views a mongoose. Atheists are the literal anti-christ to the right – so much for religious freedom – and agnostics are completely unrepresented . . . we’re not worth the time to convert and it appears that having no religious beliefs disqualifies us from being considered worthy of courting. I, personally, am thankful for small favors.
As Malcolm X famously said, “The white man never has separated Christianity from white.” If the christian right’s message resonates with nothing else, it resonates with that message. And that, in itself, personifies evil.