Politics » Politics Feature

GADFLY: Are the Religious Right?

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Let me begin by saying that I'm neither a Republican nor a Democrat. In fact, I've managed to alienate my friends of both persuasions, Republicans by my vocal criticism of the current administration, and Democrats by my active support for Ralph Nader in 2000 (the perennial whipping boy for their candidate's loss). That said, I don't hide the fact that I want to see the Republicans in Washington lose the monopoly they've enjoyed (and abused) for at least the last six years. It's time for them to go.

I have my principles, though, and one of them is I cannot vote for a candidate who wears his/her religion on his/her sleeve, or worse, who panders to religiosity to get elected.  And that, unfortunately, is what the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee is doing.

I know we live in the belt buckle of the bible belt. I'm reminded of that every time I attend a secular event that begins with a denominational prayer. But I don't want my elected representatives to have any calling in their official capacity other than representing me (and my fellow constituents) in whatever body we elect them to do so. So, when the Democratic senate candidate talks, as he has, about how he serves a higher master (and looks upward when he says that---in a manner reminiscent of the famous Hebrew National commercial), quotes biblical scripture when he's on the stump, or makes campaign commercials using his church as the set, that makes me very nervous.

Then, to make matters worse, I see (Memphis Flyer, 10/16/06) where his father, a former congressman himself, remarked during a recent campaign stop for his son that Memphis is a "Christian city," and made great pretense of the fact that Sunday is "our religious holiday." This is not surprising, coming from the man who once famously referred to East (i.e., white) Memphians as "devils."

There is no issue of public policy that can't be adulterated by the injection of religion. Whether it's terrorism, abortion, capital punishment, gay rights or the content of what we read or see on TV, once religion rears its ugly head, all rationality goes out the window. It's impossible to argue the merits of anything with someone who believes what they do because their religion tells them to. If you don't believe me, just try to have a rational discussion about evolution with a religious zealot. Nothing is truer than that which is true because your belief system tells you it is, and if someone disagrees with you, it can only be because they are destined for eternal damnation.

We recognize the excesses of religion when it suits our purposes. Witness the marginalization of an entire religion by the Bush administration in its calculated use of the term "Islamic fascism," or the Pope's invocation of a 14th Byzantine emperor for the proposition that Islam is spread at the point of a sword. And yet, this same administration (much less the Catholic church) would chafe if you were to point out that throughout history, "Christian fascism" has been responsible for the deaths of many more millions than any misguided followers of Islam have been. But I digress.

I've watched, with some glee, as the engineer of the debacle in Florida during the 2000 election, Katherine Harris, has imploded during her run for the Senate. Her most recent statement, namely that electing non-Christians will result in legislating sin, and that the separation of church and state is a lie intended to keep religious people out of politics (Washington Post, 8/16/06) was scary, even for someone who's known for her scariness. Well, she does't need to worry about the Tennessee Senate race; we've got at least one die-hard Christian in contention. It's the other candidate who should be worrisome to the likes of Ms. Harris. He's been so low-key about his religious beliefs---at least by comparison---it's obvious he's in favor of legislating sin.

The amazing thing about the use of religion (and a particular one at that) by our Democratic candidate is that you would think, of all people, he would recognize the evils associated with pandering to a majority. Yes, the majority of Tennesseans are probably Christian (which may also be why Tennessee is a "red state"), but there is a significant percentage who are not. And there are many Christians who are just as tired as non-Christians of the misuse of religion in politics, and the holier-than-thou hypocrisy that usually accompanies that misuse. How, I wonder, would our Democratic candidate feel if his opponent announced that Tennessee is a white state (not unlike the way the mayor of New Orleans intoned his "chocolate city" paradigm)?

Religion, and the religious right's issues, have been successfully used by Republicans to create so-called "wedge" issues. It's surprising to see a Democrat take a page from that book. Does he really think he's going to attract die-hard religious (and also predominantly white) Republican voters by his tactics? Does he not realize that, along with his many "centrist" votes (e.g., bankruptcy "reform," tax cuts for the wealthy, legalizing torture and illegal wiretapping), he is going to alienate far more of his traditional support than he will possibly attract from religioholics? If I were him, I wouldn't take much comfort in polls that show him ahead of his Republican opponent. Polls involving black candidates are notoriously inaccurate, apparently because more respondents say they're going to vote for those candidates than actually do.

Now, given that the Democrats' victory in Tennessee is pivotal to changing the balance of power in the senate, and that I've announced my desire to throw the Republican bums out, you may wonder why I would put my principles ahead of my politics, and the answer is very simple: I don't want to see either party, ever, have a total monopoly on government. The past six years have shown just how bad that can be. Just as the legislative branch is supposed to be a balance on executive power, I believe the two branches of the legislature must be a balance on each other. So, I will be pleased if the House changes hands, but I won't be disappointed if the Senate doesn't, especially if that is the result of voters rejecting religiosity as a qualification for election.

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