Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Death Of Zealotry

Sit down for a minute. Close your eyes, and take a few deep cleansing breaths. Now, listen closely around you.
Hear that? That faint wheezing? Our long national nightmare...words usually spoken in jest but in truth today...may finally be over. If it's not, it's in its death throes.
I speak, of course, about rightwing militant religiousity.
The eulogy may have inadvertently been delivered last week by Jon Meachem in the pages of Time Magazine (paywall):

Conservatives and liberals alike can find the American culture of compromise on religion and politics frustrating, though for different reasons. Broadly put, the right would often prefer a more theologically coherent public policy (the Roman Catholic "culture of life," for example, put into political action). And the left can find the whole notion that faith has a proper role to play infuriating, especially when Republican candidates are found to have been musing on satanic attacks on the body politic.

History and experience show that Americans of faith are welcome to politick and proselytize, but not both at the same time. The covenant of compromise on God and public life is the best answer the country has come up with to the question of how to govern in a fallen world. That's a matter of history, not theology, and in that history lies our hope.

He writes, of course, in the wake of four years of slanders against President Barack Obama, of six months of debates over whether a) a Mormon should be considered for the Presidency and b) Catholics should take their marching orders from the Vatican, as filtered through a lens of conservative Republican dogma, and at least two candidates declaring that God spoke to them and told them to run.

To be sure, the Bible is at best an ambiguous document. For every "suffer the children to come unto me," there's a tale of destruction and devastation in the service of advancing the cause of Judeo-Christian religion. I prefer to interpret the words that Jesus himself spoke as a religion of peace and understanding, of tolerance and knowledge. Others prefer to dispense with the logic inherent in that and indulge the passions and rage exhibited by a zealous God.

The separation of church and state, for that reason alone, must be solid and opaque. An official crossover is anathema to freedom. We may examine the roots of our beliefs and how they color our public policy, but as Jesus tells Pilate at His trial, "My kingdom is not of this earth." They cannot and should not be the basis of that policy.

Also, He says, "Render unto Caesar," but that's a different column. Too.

And it's true that the Bible, at least the New Testament, rarely discusses secular matters (Jesus does address divorce as adultery, in all cases of remarriage, for example, but odd how you never hear that one raised by Newt Gingrich). The Old Testament does go in depth into tribal laws but not in the context of God, always in the context of "this is good for society," including a surprisingly pro-choice stance on abortion.

Now, if ancient rabbis could come to some understanding with respect to codifying that morass, we should be able to pick up a thread of compromise too.

The past few weeks have exposed a real deep threat to the GOP's relevance, and that is this whole zealotry of the moronic. Rick Santorum clearly believes what he's saying, and his chances rest or fall with how many people he can persuade of the rightness of his wrong positions.

In other words, his base is the proportion of people who read the Bible about as carefully as they read the End User License Agreements that come with the software pre-loaded on their computers.

Thirty-odd years ago, Lee Atwater devised what he called "The Big Tent," which would somehow fit the Religious Right under the same party umbrella as the economic royalists and the right-wing "libertarians" and still manage to keep everyone from getting wet. It was a fractious, noisy and argumentative group united by one thing and one thing only: a nation more liberal than it was.

A nation where mistakes were not punished but people assisted in getting back on their feet. A nation where women were being treated as basically equal because the American family needed them to work in order to keep a lifestyle to which Madison Avenue made us accustomed, despite Rich Lowry's idiotic bleatings to the contrary, families became stronger until his ilk decided to decay all this from the bottom up. Cut taxes, shed jobs, create a permanent underclass, then whine how no one has skills and nothing gets done anymore.

And now, they have what they asked for: a nation that's violently shifted to the right and back a half century, and a people going broke for it. They still blame liberals-- just look at Rush's "apology" yesterday-- but in truth, they have no one to blame but themselves. Indeed, if anything, liberals have been the ones to rush in and try to stem the tide, only to fail and finally give up any hope of working with Republicans.

In many ways, the GOP mirror what has gone on in the nation as a whole after the defeat of the Soviet empire: having lost an enemy, one that motivated us to greatness, we've become a nation of small minds and smaller feats. Instead of boldly going where no one has gone before, we've retreated into the comfortable recesses of our fears and trepidations.

We've lost courage and for that, we have no one to blame but the right, and their brand of religion which teaches fear above love, cowardice above courage, judgement above accomplishment.

But, I think people have had enough. And I think we have Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum to thank for that.