This very idea has been a fundamental premise of the right since the days of Reagan. How is it that they can make this claim, and how is it that we have failed to refute this claim? As with so many other words the right has systematically distorted, staking their claim on religion has been a slow, deliberate and measured process. The goals of taking control of such a word are many, but not the least of which is to divide us. But in this division, there is more at stake than pitting us against them. In this division, the right pits the moral, standing on the high holy ground, against the immoral who seek to destroy a nation.
This is a very powerful idea. But the twisting of the fabric of reality doesn’t stop there. To add even more power to this idea they add the love of country. The right has also laid claim to the founding fathers, and with no regard for facts or history, they have painted the founding fathers and their intent when founding our nation to be Christian men starting a new Christian nation. The union of god and country makes for a very powerful weapon indeed. To disagree with them is to deny both god and country.
The combination of god and country with a new definition of conservative completes the formula. The conservative religious patriot believes that religion should be law. The conservative religious patriot believes that the government can and ought to be directly involved in the lives of individuals. The conservative religious patriot believes that the government should have the power to get between doctors and their patients. The conservative religious patriot has created the new big government conservatism of the modern era. The conservative religious patriot believes that you should practice their religion and if necessary the government should serve to help accomplish this goal.
This unique combination of ideas facilitates a host of opportunities for cognitive dissonance. However, the power of the ideas when combined conveniently enables those who wield this tool to ignore the facts, to ignore the issues and instead focus on whatever idea they wish to establish in our national psyche.
Take for example, the idea of religion itself. The idea of being religious is held up as something to be revered. While we all glow with pride in our religiosity we look away from the growing absence of our national ethical action. The overwhelming majority of religious people on the right are Christian and so we will use that example here. Christ was a bringer of peace. Christ was a giver of charity. Christ was a protector of the weak. Christ above all was a speaker of truth.
Yet the modern right is largely devoid of all of these qualities. The modern right wages wars under false pretenses. The modern right laments the government handouts to a nation of freeloaders. The modern right empowers the wealthy and the strong while seeking to limit the legal rights of the weak. The modern right ignores facts, manufactures alternate realities and engages in elaborate scams to discredit anyone who opposes them. The modern right endows corporations with the rights given to us by “our creator”. The modern right lives in the most fragile of glass houses while lobbing stones with every breath they have.
The modern right would use the conservative religious patriot to undo the nation and the constitution they claim to hold so dear. They argue not for the separation of church and state, but for government support of religion. They argue against free speech and individual liberty. They argue against freedom of religion in favor of institutionalizing their own. Nothing could be more un-American than this.
The modern right would use the conservative religious patriot to undo the idea of conservatism itself. Small government and personal liberty gives way to large invasive government that seeks to limit individual freedom in the name of one particular party's idea of what god would want.
The words they self apply do more to demonstrate the agenda of the right than any individual policy decision. They love the idea of country but reject the nation’s founding principles. They love the idea of small government and individual freedom except when it applies to those who don’t believe as they do.
The notion of religion as being the domain of the right is hard to reconcile with their policy goals. They seek to grow the defense department. Killing is not a Christian value, one simply need to look at the Ten Commandments to confirm this. They have overseen one of the largest transfers of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the wealthy. Yet the Bible states “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” They seek to limit access to healthcare yet Christ healed the sick and infirm. They seek to eliminate government hand outs to the poor yet Christ fed the multitudes.
The right’s use of religion has become dogma. Contrary to what you would hear with great repetition on radio and TV, America does have separation of church and state. America is not a Christian nation. The founding fathers were not starting a new religious state.
Yet the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson specifically included freedom of religion in the Bill of RIghts. Religion is one of the pillars of our nation. It is one of the most crucial pillars of any society. The founding fathers recognized the importance of the freedom to practice one’s religion in one’s own way. Our founding fathers crafted a new state of individual liberties, among which is the right to practice one's own religion in one's own way free from intrusion or oppression by the government or one's neighbors.
As religion has grown to play a larger and larger role in our politics, we have become more and more devoid of religiousness. Religion has become a word, a tool, a way to divide us. As a nation, we need true deep spiritual lives. We all ought to have our own deep personal religious, spiritual, or philosophical connection of our own choosing. As a nation we could benefit from each of our citizens engaging in spirituality in their own way. Even atheists and agnostics, many of whom are humanists, can be deeply spiritual and should not be left out of this equation. True religion is about introspection. It is about a deep understanding of one’s self and living an ethical and moral life. It is here that we find the power of religion. It is in the spiritual strengthening of each of us individually that our nation will find it’s strength, not in division and condemnation.
If we encourage deep thought, if we encourage honest introspection, if we respect personal liberties then religion could once again flourish and be of great benefit to our nation. To be sure, religion is not the domain of the right. It is not the domain of any particular party or school of thought. The right wields religion as a weapon, and it has become an incredibly powerful wedge dividing us all. We must reclaim this word so that the truly religious could once again be free of the dogmatic cynical religious baggage of the modern American right.