We’ve been spending a great deal of time at the Last Chance Democracy Café lately talking about the Religious Right. There’s a good reason for this: They scare the hell out of us.
The Last Chance Democracy Café
Episode 34: Zero Tolerance for Theocracy
by Steven C. Day
We all love our parents: And our parents all love us. But let’s face it: Finding things to talk about during telephone conversations can sometimes be a bit of a challenge.
Last Sunday’s call to my folks began crisply enough, though — wishing Mom a happy Mother’s Day.
That used up a full 17 seconds.
She thanked me for the flowers we’d sent: “They’re simply beautiful,” she said. I can’t vouch for whether they really were beautiful, or whether she was just being polite. My only involvement was reading a credit card number over the telephone. Love American style: Strictly digital and involving an instrument of consumer debt.
Another 30 seconds gone.
“How are those kids?” she asked.
“Doing just great.”
18 more seconds bite the dust.
“What’s the weather like?” my father, also on the line, inquired.
Summary: Spring-like where I was; rainy where they were.
93 seconds slide by.
Dad likes detail where the weather’s concerned.
“Don’t ask.” Actually, that’s what I was thinking: What I said was, “Great. It’s going great.”
“And the dog.” My father again. “How’s she doing?”
“Fat. The dog’s still fat.”
“The diet didn’t work?”
“No, that dog’s got no will power at all.”
So, what else to talk about?
7 minutes and 43 seconds.
Politics is a good subject for intergenerational bonding in my family: We’re all unflinching Democrats. Although I happen to know for a fact that one time, decades ago, Dad did vote for a Republican for president. Today, this blot on his record causes him considerable anguish, and I’ve assured him it’s our little secret.
I guess I lied.
But while politics is a comfortable topic of conversation, I can’t say I’ve ever expected to gain any particularly deep insights from our discussions.
Like most boys, I stopped looking to my parents as a source of profundity at about the same time my penis became something more than a device to pee through. I still understood, in a detached, objective sort of a way, that they must be reasonably bright people. My dad, for example, held both a divinity degree from a top school (he was a minister in the United Church of Christ for many years) and a PHD in sociology (he was later a college professor). Though I’ll admit that during those years of adolescent turmoil, I was constantly amazed by how little evidence I observed of the intelligence that presumably lay somewhere behind all that book learning.
But then, we all stop being teenagers eventually, even if for some — one president comes to mind — this moment doesn’t arrive until somewhere around age 40. But when it does come, however late, most of us do finally start to recognize, as the cliché goes, that maybe, just maybe, we’re not quite as smart as we had thought when we were teenagers, and correspondingly, our parents aren’t quite as dumb.
But even then, profundity just isn’t in the cards.
But I digress.
The thing is that during those 7 minutes and 43 seconds of that Mother’s Day telephone conversation, my father said a few things that were, well — sort of profound.
“So anything interesting happening politically where you are?” he asked.
(This isn’t the profound part.)
Then he said something I wasn’t expecting.
“I’m really starting to get worried about this whole Dominionism thing.” His tone of voice was serious. “Do you know about it?”
You could have knocked me over with one glass of 3.2 beer (generally it takes at least three wine spritzers).
And, yes, I did know exactly what he was talking about. I knew because that very subject had been weighing heavily on my mind since reading a special section of May 2005’s Harper’s Magazine, entitled Soldiers of Christ, made up of two extremely important articles. If you don’t subscribe, go to the bookstore and buy a copy: It’s that good.
The first article, by Jeff Sharlet, “Inside America’s Most Powerful Megachurch,” takes us into the very heart of the Religious Right. The second piece, by Chris Hedges, “Feeling the Hate with the National Religious Broadcasters,” carries the theme forward, using the author’s observations at a convention of “Christian” broadcasters to examine Dominionism. Here’s how Hedges describes it:
“Under Christian dominion, America will no longer be a sinful and fallen nation but one in which the Ten Commandments form the basis of our legal system, Creationism and “Christian values” form the basis of our educational system, and the media and the government proclaim the Good News to one and all. Aside from its proselytizing mandate, the federal government will be reduced to the protection of property rights and “homeland” security. Some Dominionists (not all of whom accept the label, at least not publicly) would further require all citizens to pay “tithes” to church organizations empowered by the government to run our social-welfare agencies, and a number of influential figures advocate the death penalty for a host of “moral crimes,” including apostasy, blasphemy, sodomy, and witchcraft. The only legitimate voices in this state will be Christian. All others will be silenced.”
Color me scared shitless.
So I answered my father’s question: “Yes, I do know about Dominionism. In fact, I just read a couple of articles . . .”
“Yeah. Have you read . . . ?”
“I’ve heard some people talking about it.”
Wow! People are talking about it? Now, there’s something new.
Don’t get me wrong: Though well into his 80s, Dad’s as sharp as Ann Coulter’s tongue (and a good deal smarter and less nutty). He’s also extremely well read — but well read in the Sunday Times, Time Magazine sense of the phrase. So far as I know, he isn’t one to habitually wander the vineyards of the liberal web, carefully collecting evidence of right wing mendacity.
If people in my father’s life are talking about it, fear and loathing of theocracy may finally be going prime time!
“It’s scary stuff,” I said. “These people really are trying to create a theocracy in America.”
“They’re the closest thing we have to the Taliban,” he replied.
This is a spot worth lingering at for awhile: I think it’s critical that we remind ourselves from time to time just what the success of the Dominion movement, or in other words the establishment of theocracy, would mean to America: There truly are no words that can adequately describe the scope of the revolution such a change would entail: The will of the governed replaced by the will of God, or more precisely, by some fanatic’s conception of the will of God. Were we ever to adopt such a model, it would mark the end of the American Republic — the death of the Great Experiment. Nothing less.
Think I’m exaggerating? Check out the proposed Constitution Restoration Act:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, the Supreme Court shall not have jurisdiction to review, by appeal, writ of certiorari, or otherwise, any matter to the extent that relief is sought against an element of Federal, State, or local government, or against an officer of Federal, State, or local government (whether or not acting in official personal capacity), by reason of that element’s or officer’s acknowledgement of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government.”
(Later clauses extend the prohibition to federal district courts, meaning absolutely no federal judicial review would be allowed.)
Bottom line: The Act declares “God’s law” (religious law as determined by the likes of former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy S. Moore) to be the supreme law of the land, taking precedence over “public law” (the laws passed by democratically elected legislative bodies) and “constitutional law” (federal constitutional clauses addressing petty non-faith based concerns like Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly and the like).
Sound good so far? Well, it gets better. The Act also effectively provides that every individual government agent and official has the absolute right, at least as against federal law, to interpret “God’s law” to his or her own liking. And no citizen would have the right to challenge that interpretation in federal court — not under any circumstance.
Here’s how it would work in practice. According to Griswold vs. Connecticut, a woman has a federal constitutional right to obtain contraception, as prescribed by her doctor, without undue interference from the state. But let’s say the city council of — and I’m picking this out of a hat, say, Fairhope, Alabama decides God intended something different, and passes an ordinance outlawing the sale, possession or use of contraception devices and medications, based “upon God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government.”
Under the Constitution Restoration Act, the women of Fairhope would be absolutely precluded from going to federal court to enforce their constitutional rights. Now, they could still go to state court; but if the Dominionists ever do become powerful enough to pass this legislation at the federal level, does anyone seriously think that an enforceable Right of Privacy, let alone a legal right to challenge faith based laws in general, will still exist under Alabama law — or, for that matter, under the laws of many other states?
In fact, according to the terms of the Act, any federal judge who even agreed to hear arguments on such a suit would automatically be subject to impeachment, conviction and removal from office.
You’ve got to give the extreme right credit for one thing: When it comes to trying to impose their beliefs on the rest of us, they’re not ones to screw around.
And bear in mind. These aren’t the ravings of some fanatic crying in the wilderness. This is an actual bill introduced before the United States Congress in all earnestness by powerful members of the majority party. This is the same congressional majority, of course, who in the Senate are now trying to end the minority’s right to filibuster judicial nominees, so as to open the floodgates even further to the appointment of extreme right wing judges, and ultimately Supreme Court justices.
As the conversation neared its end, I said to my father, “I agree. The Religious Right is just like the Taliban. And the really scary thing is how powerful they’ve become.”
“Well, I figure I’m safe,” he said in a philosophical tone of voice. “I’m in my 80s. Only so much more can happen in my life now. I’m not so sure about you . . .”
That was comforting.
But I pushed ahead, commenting, “These guys view this as a war, you know. It’s an honest to God holy war to the Religious Right.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” he responded thoughtfully. The somberness of his tone stuck me. Somber isn’t his usual style — more like flippant, really. But here he sounded dead cold serious. “I’ve been thinking,” he continued, “that if they want a war, then maybe it’s time to give them a war. The way it has been, they’ve been fighting a war and we’ve been responding by talking about tolerance . . . Well, sometimes that doesn’t cut it.”
In case you’ve been wondering that was the sort of profound part. Not just the words themselves, but the fact he was speaking them.
It’s true: Liberals do believe in tolerance, and rightfully so. And we especially believe in tolerance toward religious viewpoints, even those we differ with strongly, because respecting Freedom of Conscience is a big part of what it means to be a liberal. It should be a big part of what it means to be an American.
So while a lot of liberals, myself included, have felt very free in recent years to take shots at the Religious Right — and not just at their politics, but at their belief systems as well, many liberals, including most Democratic office holders, recoil at such overt religious warfare. It seems intolerant.
Their reward for taking this stand of conscience (or in the case of the office holders, political expediency), of course, has been to be repeatedly accused, by this very same Religious Right cadre, of being themselves religious bigots, all for having the audacity to oppose even small portions of the far right’s agenda.
Repeat after me: Sometimes tolerance just doesn’t cut it.
* * *
I mentioned the conversation with my father to Horace over lunch at The Last Chance Democracy Café the next day.
“Good,” he said. “I’m glad he brought that up.”
“Do you remember a couple of weeks ago (episode 33) when I talked at the large round table about how I believe . . . or at least hope that we’ve reached high noon for the religious right?”
“Of course. You told us you thought that the 2004 election had caused members of the Christian Right to get cocky . . . so cocky, in fact, that it’s led them to step out of the shadows, where they tend to be most effective, and into the bright light of day, where they tend to scare the hell out of people . . .”
“Exactly . . .”
“. . . and you told us you thought this might well mark the beginning of the end of their power.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind.”
“Not on your life.”
Horace leaned forward in the chair, tossing his napkin onto his now empty plate. “The thing is that it occurred to me afterwards that I’d forgotten to mention the most important point . . .”
He let the words hang in the air, gathering his thoughts, I suppose.
“Which is . . . ?” I asked impatiently after a few seconds.
“Which is . . . that none of this is likely to happen simply because we want it to. It will likely only happen if we make it happen. And that means fighting like hell. And fighting like hell on a number of different fronts. We have to fight them politically, of course. Show their ideas up for the madness they really are. Take advantage of their miscues, and shove them down their throats. But it goes beyond that. We also have to fight them theologically . . . like what Jim Wallis says in God’s Politics. Those of us in the religious mainstream have to make it our goal . . . no, our mission to prove to people that this Dominionist vision of a Christianity of Hate doesn’t reflect the true teachings of Jesus Christ. And finally, we have to start addressing the sense of hopelessness that afflicts so many working class and farm Americans . . . What Thomas Frank talks about in What’s the Matter with Kansas? — a hopelessness the Religious Right and their Republican Party comrades have been using so effectively for decades to inflame cultural hatred.”
“Do you really think we can accomplish all that?” I asked in a troubled voice.
“What choice do we have? Remember, theocracy is just another name for fascism, with a little prayer thrown in. This is a battle we can’t lose. History would never forgive us. And the first step toward winning it is to jump into the fight with both feet . . . It’s like what your father said. If they want a war . . .”
“Let’s give them a war.”
“Let’s give them more of a war than they can even begin to handle.”
So, let this be fair warning to all those who are trying to replace our constitutional democracy with theocracy: Before that happens, you’ll first have to go straight through millions upon millions of Americans who are prepared to stand behind freedom and who will fight by every lawful means to preserve it.
And I wouldn’t take us lightly, if I were you.
It’s the blood of Cotton Mather that courses through your veins; ours is from Thomas Jefferson.
I like our chances.
When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 25 years. Contact Steven at scday(AT)buzzflash.com.
© Copyright Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001
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