Deb Comer, an American living in the United Kingdom, writes to ask: "What is
happening to our country? Why do so many people appear to be part of God-based
To answer her question, it’s necessary to understand the fundamental goal of
the fundamentalist Christians: To deny basic human rights to segments of society
they deem unworthy in their god’s eyes. They believe that Americans should
reject the Constitutional concept of equality in favor of their religious caste
system. They seek to legally stigmatize all non-fundamentalist Christians.
Historically, Christianity has been used to justify such atrocities as the
genocide of Native Americans and the institution of slavery; current favorite
targets include women, gays, atheists, and pro-choice supporters.
In recent years, however, it seems that religion - as a political tool used
to solidify voting blocs and foment divisiveness - has become both common and
The right-wing religion of hatred gained a strong foothold during the
election of 1980. From Gambling with History by Laurence Barrett:
"[Ronald Reagan] was…the uncomfortable ally of the politically militant
religious right typified by the Reverend Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. During
the 1980 campaign Reagan welcomed that faction’s blessing, appeared at some of
its functions and committed himself to its agenda." Falwell’s socio-religious
message has always been about exclusion and punishment - even to the point of
stating that those he holds in disfavor were responsible for God "allowing" the
mass murders of September 11, 2001.
Endorsing right-wing religious extremism in this fashion was rewarding for
Mr. Reagan in two elections, and this lesson was not lost on George H. W. Bush
in his 1988 presidential campaign. "Bush praised a hero of the fundamentalist
Religious Right, television evangelist Jerry Falwell…After Falwell endorsed
[Bush’s] presidential aspirations, Bush complimented him for his ‘moral
vision.’" (The Acting President, Schieffer and Gates)
During the Clinton years religion-inspired hate groups certainly did not
diminish, but the key issue is that they were afforded no legitimacy by Mr.
Clinton’s administration. This of course changed with the arrival of George W.
Bush in 2001. His Republican Party is intent on using religion as the fulcrum by
which they’ll push America to the extreme far-right - perhaps irretrievably
Let’s look at just two examples of what has become acceptable in the new
climate of religious intolerance.
From the Los Angeles Times (10/16/03): "The Pentagon has assigned the
task of tracking down and eliminating Osama bin Laden…to [Lt. General William
Boykin] who sees the war on terrorism as a clash between Judeo-Christian values
and Satan." Boykin, referring to a Muslim opponent, commented that "I knew my
God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."
Here we have a high-ranking American military officer - sworn to uphold the
Constitutional concept of religious freedom - blatantly expressing his
intolerance of non-Christians.
Excerpted from a New York Times editorial (4/16/05): "Right-wing
Christian groups and the Republican politicians they bankroll have done much
since the last election to impose their particular religious views on all
Americans. But nothing comes close to the shameful declaration of religious war
by Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader…Frist is to appear on a telecast
sponsored by the Family Research Council, which styles itself as a religious
organization…The message is that the Democrats who oppose a tiny handful of
President Bush’s judicial nominations are conducting an assault ‘against people
of faith.’ By that, Senator Frist and his allies do not mean people of all
faiths, only those of their faith."
Historically - legally - religion in this country has been a matter of
personal choice, but that is changing. Extremist Christians and their powerful
political allies would force us to choose between the Constitution and the
Bible, between the Bill of Rights and the Ten Commandments.
We return, then, to Ms. Comer’s original question: "Why do so many people
appear to be part of God-based hate groups?" In many respects, the answer is
simple. Religious intolerance is nothing new, even in this country. In recent
years, however, that intolerance has found a voice among presidents and
congressional leaders; it has been legitimized at the very heart of our
For those who trumpet Ronald Reagan’s presidential accomplishments, this
might be his most lasting legacy - he taught his fellow Republicans that riding
on the shoulders of a hateful and divisive god can be a winning presidential