(Published in the Washington Post On Faith blog, October 11, 2012. Find it here: http://tinyw.in/4mI5. Naturally, they edited out some of the best parts. This is the article as written.)
Christopher Hitchens famously said that ‘religion poisons everything.’ While a thorough search might turn up technical exceptions to this rule, one of the things religion certainly does poison is politics. Poison politics leads to toxic government.
Religion has been leaning on government and meddled in elections since they were thanked for their input and given nice parting gifts by the Framers. The problem for christianist ideologues is this: despite some pretty extraordinary and self serving claims about mandates and dictates received directly from a micromanaging bronze age deity, the Constitution simply provides no role for religion in the government of the United States. Official endorsement of any religion is prohibited. Religious tests for elected office are prohibited. Prohibited. The result of our Constitutional non-establishment of religion has been a system of government that is nominally neutral on religion and which, by design, provides equal rights, protection, and access to all citizens regardless of their opinions on religion. What could possibly be fairer than that? Toxicity level, low.
The worst elements of religion, however, don’t consider this matter settled. Christian nationalism and rabid fundamentalism, based on biblical literalism, are rampant in our politics. It would be a Rovewellian redistribution of the facts to argue that christianist adamancy resides equally on the left and on the right. The imbalance has grown so great that the right genuinely believes that the god and creator of the entire universe is a republican, that they are entitled to govern, that whatever it takes to install them permanently in power qualifies as “democracy,” and that compromise is the work of Satan and entirely out of the question. Claiming a mandate from a supreme deity is the ultimate untrumpable hand. Toxicity level, high.
The result of this intractable ideology is legislative paralysis at a time when we could really use some rational solutions. Instead, democracy is being commandeered and driven into a ditch by those who would inflict faith-based social legislation taken from Leviticus and whose science comes from Genesis.
Doubling down on mean and stupid does is neither a recipe for success nor the character of greatness. Science denial will never result in greater understanding of the workings of the universe. Science denial and its siblings math denial, fact denial, and utter disregard for logic, feed a disturbing resurgence of anti-intellectualism. History instructs us well on this matter.
The religion-based denial of equality and rights for women is a remnant of a life-crushing morality devised by men who thought the earth was flat. Such cultural misogyny is a declaration of war against the very notions of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Religion proposes equally dire outcomes for gays, people who get tattoos, men who get haircuts, anyone who work on Sunday, or who eats shellfish. But the cafeteria christians are focused like a laser on the gays and find prescriptions for hate in their ancient texts.
Underpinning all of these attempts to legitimize discriminatiom is the denial of separtion of church and state. Separation deniers try to make the case that since the words ‘separation of church and state’ are not in the Constitution, separation does not exist. And yet, the prohibition is explicit in the First Amendment. The absence of a role for religion in government is woven into the very fabric of the Constitution. The Constitution does not in any way support the notion of a government in collusion with religion. The Constitution is a firewall against theocracy.
By the way, other words not in the Constitution: Democracy, patriotism, capitalism, free enterprise, corporation, job creator, God, Jesus, or christian.
Words that are in the Constitution: General welfare. Twice.
It may or may not be unfair to blame every failure of government on religion when some are likely the outcome of plain vanilla stupidity. But the right, currently and openly awash in rapturous christianism, is providing a home and a pulpit to the most toxic, coercive, and repressive elements of religion. Toxicity level, off the charts.
Government should be a solution engine, populated by the informed people, focused on outcomes beneficial to all. You know, that ‘general welfare’ thang. The government of the US must never become a tool for the imposition of religion on the unwilling and the unconvinced. Done by others, we call it sharia. And Hitchens had exactly that in mind when he called it poison.