Nel's New Day

May 19, 2013

Religion, Our Country’s Culture Crisis

As I grew up, politics and religion seemed to be separate, unlike the last few decades. My partner (a very smart person!) and I pondered about when and how the fundamental evangelical Protestants became the power in the United States.

After the rigid Puritans settled the New World during the seventeenth century, other persecuted religious groups coming to America diluted the Puritans’ power. Although evangelicals, Baptists, and Methodists proselytized the colonies in the eighteenth century, thinkers behind the organization of the new country were largely Deists who, in their rejection of the Christ’s divinity, were comparable to today’s Unitarians. They were the ones who cemented the “wall of separation” between church and state. At the same time, the American Revolution strengthened the view that God was “partial” to this country.

During the nineteenth century, revivals crossed the country in spurts, and new religions such as the Mormon Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Church of Christ, Scientist gained their footings. The revivals of the early twentieth century established fundamentalist Christian religions such as that of the Foursquare Church from Aimee Semple McPherson, immortalized in the Elmer Gantry, a book by Sinclair Lewis made into a movie starring Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons. During its early popularity, this religious approach occurred primarily within poorer populations and in the South. After the 21st Amendment overturned prohibition in 1933, Protestants seemed to be a religion that didn’t try to control people in the United States through the government.

John F. Kennedy’s election started that included eight years of Democratic presidents. This was the time when the conservative Southern Democrats left the party for the GOP and when conservatives laid the groundwork for later domination. During the next 24 years, the only Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, was a Southern Baptist who served just one term. 

Ironically, Tea Party that claimed to have no concern for social issues ultimately gave fundamentalist Christians the power that they craved. These conservative factions gained control through the organization of savvy politicians such as Dick Armey (formerly of FreedomWorks) and funding from corporations that found their ideology useful in adding to corporate wealth.

As the growing Tea Party was co-opted by fundamentalist Christians, it changed from the party for smaller government and no taxes into one that worked to change the United States into a theocracy. The result was a larger, controlling government because of restrictive laws to force people into their morality and their obsession to investigate anything they thought could damage the opposition. The corporations continued to financially support them because the Tea Party members support laws that increased corporate wealth. 

Now the dichotomy between fundamental and mainstream Protestantism is causing a crisis of identity within the nation. In Clash!: 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are, Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Connor address the acrimony between the two parts of Protestantism.

Moderate Protestants believe in science as part of their religion, and the history of their persecution in Europe showed them the importance of the wall between religion and government. Fundamentalists don’t agree. Former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), a Southern Baptist, calls evolution a mere “theory,” and Texas Gov. Rick Perry agrees. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), an evangelical Lutheran, dismisses both evolution and climate change, calling it “voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.”  Other Republican leaders—Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, etc.—go along with the non-belief in science.

The country’s only Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, said, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” Santorum, a Catholic who ran for president last year, reported that when he first read these words, he “almost threw up.”

Conservative Protestants want clear social hierarchies, traditional moral codes, and more God in their lives. Their God is their best friend while moderate Protestants have a more distant God. Although warmer, the conservatives’ God is more wrathful, angrier, and more punishing while moderate Protestants see their deity as more benevolent and forgiving.   

An example of this punishment comes from a Texas judge, John Roach Jr., who invoked his “morality clause” and punished Carolyn Compton for living with her partner out of wedlock. If the partner doesn’t move out within 30 days, Compton will lose her two children. Because Texas does not recognize same-sex marriage, Compton cannot marry, Page Price, her partner of three years. Therefore she loses her loving partner or her children to an abusive man.

Fundamentalists also perceive God’s punishing the entire country. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) recently claimed that the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Benghazi attack were judgments by God as a way to punish America.

Pat Robertson’s recent marriage advice to a woman who called his program and asked how to forgive her cheating husband shows the fundamentalist perspective of hierarchy.

As the woman was talking, Robertson interrupted her:

“Stop talking about the cheating. He cheated on you. Well, he’s a man, okay. What you do is begin to focus on why you married him in the first place, on what he does good.” 

“Does he provide a home for you to live in? Does he provide food for you to eat? Does he provide clothes for you to wear? Is he nice to the children, do you have a happy family? Does he take the kids to sporting events? Does he go out and watch their Little League games? Does he share with you stuff that is going on? 

“And…uh…is he handsome, or is he, you know, what is it? Start focusing on those things and essentially fall in love with him all over again, and I recommend that you reach out and touch him. Touch his face! Hold his hand. Look into his eyes. Talk to him…”

“He must have some good points, or you wouldn’t have married him. So, give him honor, instead of trying to worry about it…but recognize, like it or not, that males have a tendency to wander a little bit. What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander.

“Reach out and think of the good stuff, then begin to thank God that you have a marriage that is together and that you live in America and that good things are happening…” 

Thus the Seventh Commandment applies only to women. 

Will Robertson continues his belief about LGBT people, who he equals with murderers and rapists and thieves? Or continue to believe in Bachmann’s theory of punishment about the 9/11 attacks being caused by feminism, ”a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians”? When pigs fly?

The Arizona government has established the same anti-LGBT punishment policy. After Phoenix included LGBT and disabled citizens in its anti-discrimination law to give them rights in housing and employment, religious leaders, including the Roman Catholics, said that the new law could “trample on religious liberties.” To save religion, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth and Sen. Steve Yarbrough reintroduced a tweaked, already-defeated bill as an amendment to an unrelated bill in order to skip a second public hearing. 

Language for the bill written by a conservative group, Center for Arizona Policy, states that no government entity can “burden” religious freedom, a “stand your ground” law for the religious. It allows people to discriminate against anyone they want if they claim religious grounds as an excuse—discrimination based on personal belief. The bill passed the Arizona House by a vote of 32-24.  

The Christian News calls it a way “to expand protections for the free exercise of religion.” The bill now goes to the Senate which has 17 Republicans of 30 members. At least one Republican representative had a bit of sense. “Can I create a religion and then claim infringement?” asked Kate Brophy McGee. 

What an interesting idea! Would that happen if we have a theocracy or do we have to follow just one religion,  that of the fundamental evangelical Protestants. 

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