On my last post, it was requested that since I just wrote about government’s influence on religion, that I flip it and discuss religion’s influence in government. The thing is, a lot of people talk about this, so I’ve had to think about how to make it interesting. Especially since regular readers already can figure out how absolutely opposed I am to the idea of religion influencing government, but the question then becomes why? Not the obvious reasons, things like basing an system that actually affects real people on stories sets up a system that doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. Not because religions are complex ideas with thousands of possibile interpretations, many of which involve remarkably inhuman behavior.
No, the biggest and most important reason to keep religion as far away from government as possible is that they think they have answers. Moreover, all the answers.
What do I mean by that?
When the Gartrell and Bos study came out in the journal Pediatrics showing that children in lesbian households did as well in most areas and had better self-esteem than children raised by heterosexuals, the religious right freaked out. Peter Sprigg from what I can only consider the ironically named Family Research Council wrote, “The truth is that most research on ‘homosexual parents’ thus far has been marred by serious methodological problems.” The study he cites from Lerner and Negai supports this by advocating for unnecessarily rigorous scientific standards, ones they themselves continually fail to show.
American Family Association’s Chief Delusional Asshole Bryan Fischer went as far as to say,”This Pediatrics piece is clearly designed to promote homosexual adoption.” You see, the science doesn’t support his pre-conceived notion, therefore it’s part of a spooky agenda to get more kids out of the adoption system and into families that he doesn’t approve of.
Now, while these people and those like them hold incredible sway over politics and political figures, they are not technically politicians, which is why I saved the pièce de résistance for last. Our old friend Rick Santorum, who chooses to ignore studies that don’t support what he’s already decided and said earlier this month about why a father in prison is better than a same-sex couple, “You may rationalise that that isn’t true, but in your own life and in your own heart, you know it’s true.”
And there is the problem. This attitude of “science be damned, I feel.” Religion and faith by definition are feelings. They are things that cannot be empirically tested, they have to be accepted based on gut reactions. And what needs to be accepted?
That this is the Word of God. The premise for the vast majority of religions that they are somehow correct. That some being or beings take an active interest in them, either positive or negative, and suspend the laws of reality in their favor so long as they do these very specific things to satisfy the vast egos of these alleged supreme beings. Now, you have more individuals accepting that there are many ways to worship this or these god or gods, but doctrinally, odds are in favor that if you adhere to a specific religious creed, it claims to be the only way to appease their particular all-loving tyrant with self-esteem issues. I totally make exception for the few that are not that way, but when you look at the God of Abraham and the vast majority of interpretations of it, you’re talking about something that claims to love us while delighting in causing endless pain and suffering to anybody who doesn’t show appropriate deference. Yes, even in the New Testament.
So, you end up with a group of fanatics who are absolutely sure they’re right. Not just right, but right for no good reason. Right because they read it in a confusing book, or at least the parts they actually did read said this stuff. No basis in reality, actively willing to deny reality, in fact. And because they’re fanatics, they’re more likely to be active, so politicians cater to their demands and we end up with a political landscape littered with science-denial, homophobia, and social injustice. It’s why even though fundamentalists are a reasonably small part of the population and most Americans support gay marriage, for example, the GOP candidates are scrambling to out-anti-gay one another.
That is the crux, really. People who are sure that they are right will do everything they can to bring the world into alignment with their vision rather than altering their vision to fit the reality of the world. When you honestly believe you have a book with all of the answers, you search for ways to make it fit with rapidly changing circumstances rather than approaching those circumstances with a fresh perspective. It’s more important to preserve the idea that God is infallible and gave us a perfect and easy to understand instruction book than to make policy that addresses what is actually happening.
Rick Santorum won’t be president. Assuming reasonable people go out to the polls, none of the GOP field will be. But if he or any of the other ones who will say anything to appeal to god botherers all over the country were president, I cannot help but believe that their faith will trump the law or a sober, rational assessment of the situations they are likely to face. I really think Santorum believes wholeheartedly that for Jesus to return, Israel needs to be whole, and if that means going to war with Iran, so be it. It’s the best explanation for his confusing Israeli policies that keep stressing that all of Israel is one country under one people, as if wishing will make it true. Similarly, pronouncements by staffers like “gays make Jesus puke” should tip people off that this campaign is not working with the same facts as the rest of us.
I don’t doubt that Newt Gingrinch, Definer of Civilization, Hero of Marriage, is sure that same-sex unions are somehow pagan. That he thinks his anti-rhino rhetoric somehow proves God. That he’s sure that secularists are assaulting the ability of religious people to believe things.
Romney…well, he fervently believes whatever he thinks will get him elected, which again points to appeasing extremists, at least in the primary.
At this point I should address moderates as I normally do. I’m not worried about moderates. It doesn’t matter to me that Mary Margaret Haugen believes in “traditional marriage” or has religious convictions because when it comes to governing, she’s willing to put those aside to recognize the reality of same-sex unions. Jon Huntsman’s Mormon faith doesn’t bother me because he realizes that science is more true than his preferred origin story.
But as we saw with Huntsman and as we’re seeing after the pronouncement of Archbishop J. Peter Sartain in Washington that Catholic priests must inveigh against same-sex marriage, those people have much less of a chance to get any traction because the ones most motivated to vote are the ones who believe that God wants this, not the moderates who don’t think that God is taking a side.
Religion has had a huge cultural impact on America and the world. Lots of things have, though, and we’ve left a lot of them behind because they’re backward and unjust. If people want to believe, nothing should stop them, at least not legally. But when you try to apply those beliefs to the running of government, you’re trying to apply inviolable concepts to changeable situations, and ultimately that leads to a situation in which you have to either admit that something within your faith is wrong, or the world is wrong. And it’s a lot easier to let others be wrong than admit that you might be.