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Charles Cutter

The Politics of Intolerance
By Charles Cutter (www.cuttersway.com)
Apr 22, 2005 - 6:53:00 AM

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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 hate groups?"

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 acceptable.

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 so.

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 democracy.

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 strategy.


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