Writing about religion isn’t something I’m terribly comfortable with. Writing about the Republican Party and religion makes my hair stand on end. My philosophy has always been ‘live and let live’. The philosophy of the Republican Party candidates for the office of President (with the exception of Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and, to a lesser degree, Ron Paul), seems to be ‘live and the rest of you go to hell’.
I’m getting to truly hate watching these debates, but I think of it as penance-in-advance, because if these people were all correct, at their Iowa Thanksgiving Family Forum, I’ll be burning up for a long time to come, or else reincarnated as a dung beetle.
This particular forum saw them huddled around a table at a church with an audience of 3,000 people. It might be hard for those of us who find these people disturbing to imagine, but these forums are having the effect of humanising the Republicans. They’re joking, smiling, agreeing that liberal, godless, Islamist, communist, fascist, occupying Democrats are at the root of our problems. And Michele Bachmann getting all the men their water capped off this scene of harmonic domesticity.
But I could only watch for about 45 minutes. Then I switched off the computers, turned on all the lights, double-locked the door, closed the window and hid under the covers. Not because they are Christian. But because of the self assuredness of these people, the ease with which they dismiss other people’s points of view and what they call “secular society” as “filth” which “pollutes our society”.
Moderator and right-wing pollster Frank Luntz first asked the candidates to describe what “So help me God” meant to them.
Herman “that sounds foreign to me” Cain said that it means that the President is ultimately responsible to God (i.e. rather than the public).
Bachmann talked about the Holy Spirit knocking on her heart’s door and being prayed for by friends. She suggested that “God created government”. I think maybe the Holy Spirit knocked on her head, too, a little harder than it intended.
Rick Perry had this little gem: “Being the president of the united states of America has gotta be the hardest job in the world, and the idea that one of us around this table could do it with our own human intellect, our capability, is beyond, beyond any of us and we have to have that eternal wisdom that comes from God”. There’s nothing wrong, obviously, with having faith of any kind. But how does this work in practise? What if the guy (or gal) upstairs takes a break? Or gets tired of whispering the names of government departments over your shoulder? Then who do you turn to? Personally, I’m just fine with someone who thinks that their human intellect and capabilities enable them to govern.
Now Rick Santorum had a brief moment of sanity in last week’s foreign policy debate, somewhere in between launching a hypothetical invasion of Iran and supporting Israel to the hilt. But in this debate he went a little overboard. Our rights, he argued, come from God. “He has laws that we must abide by. Unlike Islam” [and here the audience burst into applause...apparently just suggesting the difference makes you worthy] “where higher laws and civil laws are the same, we have separate civil laws but those must comport with our higher laws”. Well, not really. We have a Constitution. It was written by men, it’s been changed by men and women, and men and women in this country can change it any time they like if they do so along democratic principles.
The Newt Who Would Be King who, in case you haven’t heard, is surging, said, “Every American understood that we are endowed by our creator by certain unalienable rights. And then you have to explain what we mean by creator. And I wouldn’t have anyone teaching who had trouble explaining what the Founding Fathers meant when they said that our rights come from our creator”. Got it. So teachers must be not only Christian, but must ascribe to literalist readings of religious and historical texts.
Our country, The Newt (who suggested a loyalty oath at some point during his campaign) went on, is “a country which has been now, since 1963, relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life [... We] shouldn’t be surprised at the problems we have because we have attempted to create a secular country which I think is frankly a nightmare”.
There was more in this vein, of blaming our problems on a “secular” left. Santorum accused the left of having “co-opted and taken over the academic institutions of this country [...] the culture, the popular culture”, and urged Republicans to fight this to stop “the filth com[ing] through the television”.
Cain portrayed people of faith as a put-upon constituency, brutally intimidated by the “political correctness police”, who are presumably using something stronger than pepper spray. Or maybe Cain was drinking pepper spray before the event, which would account for his barmy contributions.
But he was in good company.
The moderator cited research showing that “those who do not pray and do not attend church at all are the most unhappy, most angry”. The Newt, PhD, stepped up to explain that obviously it is “conservatives who tend to be happier and liberals who tend to be more miserable”. He went on to lay the blame at the feet of the “anti-God French Revolution”, and said of “liberals”, “They are determined to destroy our value system”.
Bachmann worked on a slightly older genealogy. American conceptualism, she contended, was based on a Judeo-Christian ethic which, in turn was “really based on the Ten Commandments”. So Moses (it was Moses, right?) was just laying the groundwork for an American Empire? I’m going to have to have a chat with some of my college history teachers...clearly they weren’t giving me this fascinating, and undoubtedly well-documented back-story!
Ron Paul, who seemed the most uneasy in this forum, chimed in. People have to be willing “to face the consequences of their failure!” He’s also the most prophet-like of these people, leaning forward, gesticulating wildly.
Rick Perry was feeling left out, and so opined that foreign aid should be based on the abortion policy of the country in question.
Liberals and progressives were really taking a beating tonight, and Santorum piled on to accuse the left of being about freedom without responsibility. Funny, why doesn’t he apply that standard to the financial interests he’s supporting? Or the military industrial machine his insane foreign policy would fuel? He reminded us that, in his view, “the laws of this country should comport with [God’s] moral vision”. It’s a little too convenient when you’re the only one who gets to hear the voices.
The Newt had the last word before I decided that I’d had enough of this disgusting rubbish. “All the Occupy movements”, he began, “starts with the premise that we owe them everything”. He accused demonstrators of begging for money on the streets. His advice for them, which garnered huge applause from the audience and praise from the moderator, was “Go get a job right after you take a bath”.
That is vintage right-wing bile. Misrepresent the character, goals, words of the people who are protesting on the streets, accuse them of immorality, incite hatred of them amongst your target audience, and (this was the take-home message from all of the candidates except Paul) argue that only those who worship in a Judeo-Christian tradition have the real right to participate in civil life in this country. Any laws that are not in accordance with that tradition are illegitimate, and the same goes for political aims. I don’t know if it is coincidence or strategy that so many candidates are espousing these views, but they are aiming at a radical restructuring of the debate...one designed to leave a lot of us out of it altogether.
In 45 minutes, the Republicans had managed to blame the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, LBJ, Obama, secularism, Islam, the sexual revolution, Occupiers, hippies, and liberals for the decline of our country. And all without a mention of banks, the financial sector, wars, poverty, or equality. And the debate still had at least an hour to run. Just think what they could pull off in four years...