January 27th is my 41st birthday. To mark the occasion I am going to post 41 pieces of my published writing — one a day for the next few weeks. Some are minor triumphs; others capture a moment; others are naive and flamboyant. But they matter, to me anyway, because they are the warp and woof of my life.
The following column appeared in The Daily Pennsylvanian on Monday, 6 March 2000. The same day, as it happens, that I got my first tattoo before getting blotto at my best friend’s birthday party.
The wrongs of the U.S. religious right
According to The New York Times, current media-darling John McCain has just put his foot in it — big time. All because he had the gall — the audacity to suggest that maybe Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are not in fact directly related to God the Father.
“Talk about hate-mongering,” sniffs Marion J. Fisher, an elderly Baptist woman quoted in the Times article.
“To me, that’s what he’s doing, throwing mud and bad mouthing people who have faith and beliefs.”
Oh bless. The image of a lonely, chubby McCain figure standing on a platform flinging handfuls of slop at an overdressed granny is almost unbearably funny But that isn’t the point.
Was Ms. Marion J. Fisher — or any of the tiny-minded conservatives who are currently gathering wood to incinerate the political ambitions of the heretical McCain —actually paying attention to what he said? Has anyone had the courage to point out that, if anything, McCain was far too easy on the so-called Christian leaders he took a swing at?
McCain merely called them “agents of intolerance” when he would have done well to point out that their entire faith is founded on intolerance. He called them an “evil influence” on the Republican Party when he should have said they were an evil influence on society.
When, pray tell, did Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson do anything good for America? As much as the religious right would like to convince itself that America’s current host of social problems is a direct result of our collective straying from the fold, they are pointing the finger in precisely the wrong direction.
Fundamentalism, a throwback to our embarrassing Puritan ancestry, is a ball-and-chain around the ankle of American social and political life. When we should be concentrating on improving public education, fundamentalists start quarrels over posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms. When we should be seeking to improve social services for single-parent families, they rant on about the evils of unwed motherhood And so it goes.
My most vivid memory of Robertson’s aspirations for our country is his suggestion that we build a wall along the southern border of the U.S. to keep all those damn foreigners out.
Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority recall Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads, whose drive for moral purity in 17th century England resulted in terror, regicide and a ban on dancing.
I’m sure God was impressed.
In short, these are not good guys. They would happily drag America back to Puritanism for their own personal gain, and apparently a lot of people love them for it. This is enough to give any free-thinking citizen serious pause.
Imagine life under the religious right. First, women could forget about reproductive rights. Second, we could look forward to children being indoctrinated at school, the tenets of Christianity being crammed down their throats. On the agenda for their education would no doubt be the evils of sex. a primer in xenophobia and a long list of who God disapproves of and why. And if you’re gay — just move to Canada now.
The ultimate drive of the religious right, after all. is not for spirituality, but for hegemony. If all they really cared about were their God and their faith, they would shut up and take themselves off to a prayer meeting. But that, heaven forbid, would be letting all us non-believers get away with it. Because the Christian right, you see, demands not just individual devotion but zealous proselytization, too. It isn’t enough to “walk humbly with God” — they have to make sure everyone else is goose-stepping along as well.
This is where the ordinary, anonymous zealots get their wires crossed with the big name zealots such as Falwell and Robertson.
The rank and file, I reckon, sincerely believe that the prominent leaders of the religious right are their best chance for the mass reform of America, while Robertson, Falwell and Co. are—I would wager—more interested in power than in redemption.
They found a niche in the market and hope that if they stick with it —convincing the faithful of the impending demise of Christianity at the hands of Catholics, Jews, homosexuals, atheists, immigrants and women — then maybe one day their domination fantasies will come true.
But don’t tell the true believers that, or you’ll be making the same cock-up McCain did.
Which is to say, you’ll be giving the religious right credit for more wit than they are actually able and willing to exercise.
Cila Wamcke is a junior English major from Portland. Ore. She is studying abroad in London this semester. Bigmouth Strikes Again appears on Mondays.