Battle for the Minds
Religious Politic and Reaction of the New Atheists
Part I - The Religious Politic
The Religious Right, the most politically active of organized religions, attempts to direct local and national legislation to its social conservative agenda. With most voters crowded towards the center of the political spectrum, the Religious Right maintains control of a solid bloc of "swing" voters by which its minority hopes to control the majority. Nevertheless, it has not been successful in obtaining national legislation that advances their social conservative agenda. In the 2006 congressional elections, its preferred candidates were mostly defeated.
The intensive organizing efforts of religious extremes, that indoctrinate adherents to political beliefs and provide misguided information to advance their causes, has provoked a New Atheism. The New Atheism regards organized religion as a threat to world peace and to the health and welfare of planet Earth. To them, all organized religions, and especially the Religious Right, are leading America into an abyss. The Religious Right preaches Armageddon and is prepared to make the cataclysm happen. The New Atheists boldly proclaim it is time for atheists to come out of the closet and combat religious tyranny and its destructiveness.
The Religious Right and the New Atheists can both be regarded as "doomsday prophets." The former views the United States in a social decline that will lead to dismay, civil strife and instability. The latter ascertains that religious hypocrisy and molding of minds deters citizens from recognizing the significance of increasing environmental, domestic and international problems. They show that most wars of the last decade are religious oriented, and the wars are growing in use of weapons for mass destruction.
The New Atheists have only spokespersons. The Religious Right has leaders, finances and organizations. How effective can spokespersons be against well-equipped organizations? Let' see.
The Religious Political Alignment
In 2004, the independent spiritual web site, Beliefnet, surveyed the voters in America's religious denominations. After the November 2004 election, it updated the data from the Fourth National Survey on Religion and Politics . The survey partitions the religions of American politics into "twelve tribes." Three of the religious groups have a majority of conservative voters and the following characteristics:
The Religious Right comprise 12.4% of the voting-age population. Among these evangelical Protestants, 88% maintain a literal interpretation of the Bible and 87% attend church at least once each week. At least 70% of them are affiliated with the Republican Party.
The Heartland Culture Warriors comprise 11.6% of voting-age population. This group is composed of conservative Catholics, conservative mainline Protestants, the Latter-day Saints, and other smaller groups. They are slightly less orthodox than the Religious Right. At least 75% of them attend church regularly. About 70% are affiliated with the Republican Party.
The Moderate Evangelicals comprise 10.8% of the voting-age population. Nevertheless, 54% are characterized as biblical literalists, regard themselves as born-again Christians, and 35% of them attend church regularly. About 47% are affiliated with the Republican Party and 31% with the Democratic Party.
One of the "twelve tribes" is classified as The Religious Left. It is composed of liberal Catholics and mainline Protestants and comprises 12.6% of the voting-age population. Few of them are characterized as biblical literalists, and only 25% attend church regularly. About 21% are affiliated with the Republican Party and 51% with the Democratic Party.
The comparable electoral sizes of the Religious Right and Religious Left seem to create a "wash," for the most committed; the votes of one nullify the votes of the other. The potential voting power might be equal, but the final voting depends upon organization, and the religious groups have the advantage of built-in organizations. Their leaders are at the pulpit and use churches as meeting halls. They address a constituency that attends services regularly and many of the parishioners follow the dictates of the religious leaders. Radio and television networks spread political messages to a vast audience of receptive and obedient listeners; many of whom also include the Heartland Cultural Warriors and moderate Evangelicals. The religious conservatives can persuade multitudes to favor their direction on vital issues. A tax-free status increases contributions and adds capability to finance political activities.
A religious stance on issues disturbs the New Atheists. If issues are resolved by religious rather than by rational concepts, the nation will be hostage to Dominionism, an interpretation of a Genesis doctrine that leads Fundamentalists to believe they are commanded to dominate the political process.
The Vital Issues
Extremist religious leaders proclaim the need of Dominionism to avoid a loss of choices. From conception to death, a soulless government denies them choices . They are pushed to fight for stability, for freedom, for their social conservatism, and for the issues that define their existence. The New Atheists present an opposing attitude. They don't respond to all issues and aren't in agreement on all issues, but all of them reject decisions formed from faith based initiatives.
Abortion is a never-ending issue that unites many religious groups. These groups promote local laws for inhibiting abortion. They engage in political activity for selecting Supreme Court judges amenable to reversing the Roe Vs. Wade decision. To the New Atheists, abortion and pro-choice are personal decisions and imposing legal restrictions by relevance to scriptures are illegal and hypocritical.
Education to religious extremists requires the inclusion of teaching creationism along with evolution. The New Atheists are the most ardent followers of Darwin and have made Darwinism vs. Creationism the essential issue in their agenda.
Foreign policy initiatives of the Religious Right are driven by ultra-patriotism and U.S. exceptionalism, by the causal potency of God in selecting America for an exceptional position that the rest of the world must admire, emulate and not contradict. The New Atheists reject ultra-patriotism and all types of exceptionalism. They castigate the shaping of policies by Christian soldiers that have a history of promoting war and preventing peace, of destroying rather than constructing.
Stem cell research violates most religious beliefs in conception. Religious groups argue for laws preventing the use of fetuses for stem cell research. The New Atheists argue against non- scientific dictates and are leaders for using all scientific methods to advance the cures for diseases.
Islam infuriates Christian Fundamentalists. An obsessive hatred for Islam drives Christian Fundamentalists to attitudes that portend a clash of civilizations. Some of the New Atheists condemn Islam more harshly than they condemn the other monotheistic religions. Nevertheless, they perceive the Christian Fundamentalists as inciting violence and having a lust for war.
The Middle East Conflict has excited the Christian Fundamentalists as if it were a God driven plan to fulfill biblical prophecies. Their support for Israel exceeds Israelis' support for Israel and their voting potential deters the U.S. Congress from an honest debate on the issue. The New Atheists recognize that favoring Israel for biblical reasons and as a fulfillment of revelations exacerbates the conflict. The favoritism skews public opinion and U.S. policies to positions that prevent a just solution to the Middle East crisis.
Gay Rights is another initiative that arouses the full fury of the conservative religions. Their interpretations of scriptures guide an agenda that essentially views gay rights as a disturbance to a social order. The New Atheists believe in rights of individuals and not in rights proclaimed by interpretations of an invisible deity. Attempts to regulate social stability are excuses for framing the social fabric to suit an institutional agenda.
The Religious Right expects to spread its message of social conservatism to other religious groups, such as African-American Baptists, conservative Catholics and Mormons. The New Atheists expect the public to learn that the Atheist community is much, much larger than realized. With this realization, atheists will become more outspoken and more credible. Their messages will be better received and the sense will be more easily comprehended.
The principal strengths of the Religious Right and the New Atheists are due to their leaders or spokespersons. The clash of convictions are mirrored in the clash of personalities. The Religious Right has its new "rightists." It also has finances, organization and a constituency that is receptive to its message and more easily to follow dictates. The New Atheists have no finances or organizations and a constituency that already knows the message and acts independently.
The New Religious Right
Previously prominent leaders of the Religious Right are being replaced in importance. Jerry Falwell, founder of the earlier Moral Majority, Pat Robertson, chairman of the Christian Broadcasting network and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed Jr. are being overshadowed by another breed of more receptive leaders. These leaders have potent and well -financed organizations with dedicated members and are prepared to advance their objectives by political means.
Focus on the Family and James C.Dobson
James C. Dobson is considered the most influential of Religious Right leaders. His Focus on the Family (FOF) organization does just that; it focuses on self-defined family values, on re-adjusting an America that has fallen victim to satanic impulses. Have a question on relationships, marriage, entertainment, parenting, social issues, life challenges or faith and FOF has an answer, a biblical answer. People for the American Way describes FOF as:
...anti-choice, anti-gay, and against sex education curricula that are not strictly abstinence-only. Local schoolbook censors frequently use Focus on the Family's material when challenging a book or curriculum in the public schools. FOF also focuses on religion in public schools, encouraging Christian teachers to establish prayer groups in schools.
Focus on Family poses an image of simple metaphors - not so. Its media empire has 2.3 million subscribers to ten monthly magazines and publishes a wide variety of books, tapes, films and videos. Revenue in 2004 reached a staggering $137,848,520. FOF founder and Chairman of the Board James C. Dobson, who considers himself a psychological counselor and not an evangelist minister, hosts radio programs that are are broadcast in 15 languages daily, on more than 3,400 facilities in North America and on approximately 6,300 facilities in 164 countries. He estimates his daily audience to be greater than 220 million people. Founder Dobson appears on 80 U.S. television stations each day. FOF also has a mailing list of more than 3 million followers. It declared $118,263,318 in grants, contributions and donor gifts on its 2004-990 tax form.
Some critics regard Dobson, who is a clinical psychologist, as having a sincere agenda. From About Atheism:
He certainly is consistent in the sense that on his radio program, he advocates real family values - the idea that people should slow the pace of their lives and reserve the bulk of their time and effort for their families. You can find this ideal throughout his written works, and it is a far cry from the repressive "family values" agenda which we normally see being used as an excuse to roll back every single attempt at progressive social thinking.
Focus On Family has not shown statistics that prove its giant self-help enterprise has enriched the lives of its members. A typical result of its efforts from its Citizen Link reports:
...parental-rights advocates describe what happened last week when a federal judge in Boston shot down a lawsuit by some parents who objected to what Lexington schools were teaching their young children about homosexuality.
Last Friday, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mark Wolf told David Parker and Rob and Robin Wirthlin that they had no legal right to challenge the schools -- at all.
Focus on Family sells its products well to the consumer. The courts and governments, except possibly for barring same-sex marriage, are not buying its offers.
Family Research Council, Justice Sunday and Tony Perkins
The peripatetic Dr. James Dobson also founded, in 1983, the Family Research Council (FRC) as a lobbying group for his Focus on Family. Tony Perkins, a two-term Louisiana state representative and a candidate for the United States Senate in 2002, became its supervisor in 2003, and greatly increased FRC lobbying activities in the nation's capital and its promotion of socially conservative views. FRC's website defines its organization as:
Championing marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society. FRC shapes public debate and formulate public policy that values human life and upholds the institutions of marriage and the family. Believing that God is the author of life, liberty, and the family, FRC promotes the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis for a just, free, and stable society.
The Family Research Council claims 455,000 members, has two publications and several newsletters. Washington Watch Weekly is a FRC 30-minute radio talk show that features Tony Perkins.
What has the FRC done? The FRC suggests it prevented the insertion of a provision in the Senate Lobbying Reform bill that adversely affects non-profit organizations. It lobbies against Texas' mandated HPV vaccinations, believing it violates family constitutional rights. It agrees with the many states (FRC claims 43) that have barred same-sex marriages. The number of issues in which FRC is involved are few and the effectiveness of its participation is not apparent. FRC was only one of many organizations that lobbied to bar same-sex marriages,
Despite its visibly active presence on Capital Hill and at state legislatures the Family Research Council doesn't show much of a record of success.
Perkins has added a twist to his evangelical appeals with Justice Sundays, a series of religious conferences that bring together Religious Right and U.S. Congress leaders. Former Georgia Governor Zell Miller (D/R), former Texas Congressman Tom DeLay (R) and former United States Senator from Tennessee Bill Frist (R) have appeared at the conferences. Justice Sunday portrays Democrats as being "against people of faith." Perkins compares the struggles of conservative Christians to the civil rights movement. It's not atheists that are being discriminated against; it's the Christian Evangelist community. Perkins and his followers, who seek the support of African American churches, present themselves as continuing the legacies of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.
Note that the only congressional leaders at Justice Sundays are former congressmen. Perkins use of Martin Luther Kings' name can't be more than a stunt that will alienate African-Americans.
Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and Rev. John C. Hagee
CUFI is a newly formed organization, founded by Texas evangelist Rev. John C. Hagee, pastor of the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. Using biblical quotes to validate its purposes, CUFI expects
to provide a national association through which every pro-Israel church, para-church organization, ministry or individual in America can speak and act with one voice in support of Israel in matters related to Biblical issues.
Slightly battered AIPAC will have its load lightened by the CUFI, which aims to establish a presence in hundreds of cities throughout all 50 states, and intends to lobby on behalf of Israel. Isn't having American institutions lobbying for a foreign government a dangerous concept? Isn't identifying American people as antagonists to the Arab world uncomfortable? Does internationalization of the Religious Right's agenda mean that radical Islam is correct in internationalizing its agenda?
Council for National Policy and Tim LaHaye
Reverend Tim LaHaye has been responsible for the creation of several right wing religious organizations, including the 1979 co-founding with Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority. In 1980, Tim LaHaye organized the Council for National Policy CNP) as a forum for conservative Christians to debate methods for executing a Religious Right agenda. Although LaHaye might no longer be the imposing personality in the CNP, (membership and organization are secret), the organization is extant. Excerpts from the New York Times, Feb. 24, 2007, Christian Right Labors to Find '08 Candidate by David. D. Kirkpatrick,
WASHiNGTON, Feb. 24 - A group of influential Christian conservatives and their allies emerged from a private meeting at a Florida resort this month dissatisfied with the Republican presidential field and uncertain where to turn.
The event was a meeting of the Council for National Policy, a secretive club whose few hundred members include Dr. James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, the Rev. Jerry Falwell of Liberty University and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. Although little known outside the conservative movement, the council has become a pivotal stop for Republican presidential primary hopefuls, including George W. Bush on the eve of his 1999 primary campaign.
(People who attended the Amelia Island event said Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, delivered a well-received address to the council about what he called the gathering threat of radical Islam.)
In an interview, Mr. Hunter, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee and a supporter of Mr. Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq, said the need for a strong national defense was the centerpiece of his speech. That defense, he argued, should include cracking down on illegal immigration, building a wall along the Mexican border and renegotiating foreign trade deals to protect American manufacturing. "We are losing the arsenal of the democracy," he said.
The Council for National Policy seems to be an attempt at a right-wing response to the Democratic Leadership Council. The CNP can organize conferences, but does it have any influence, especially when Rick Santorum, who lost his seat in congress, is one of the speakers? Until now, a great influence is not apparent.
The Ohio Restoration Project and Russel Johnson
Columbus, Ohio Pastor Russel Johnson is going where no Religious Rightist has gone before. He leads the Ohio Restoration Project, a work in progress network of about 1000 "Patriot Pastors" from conservative Ohio churches. Each of the "Patriot Pastors" has pledged to register 300 voters. If the effort is successful, the project might consider trying to elect Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's Secretary of State and a Christian conservative, as governor in next year's election. Established Republicans are alarmed at the bold move of their Christian allies who have been quoted as wanting to push the "seculars and jihadists...into the dust bin of history."
The Ohio initiative has spawned similar movements in Texas and Pennsylvania. Can these projects work? Probably not. The Christian conservatives control a bloc of the Republican constituency in many states, but an insufficient amount to field their own candidates. In the 2006 congressional election, they voted by their absence; and the Republicans realized they need the Religious conservatives to win. Nevertheless, more Republicans would vote for a moderate Democrat than a fundamentalist Republican. It is clear to the Republicans that they need to compromise their programs to accommodate the Religious Right. The Religious Right can't expect the Republicans to satisfy an entire faith based agenda. Russel Johnson's project can only help the Democrats win Ohio's governorship.
The Religious Politic
Most of the American presidents have been deists. Many of them have feigned attachment to religions, and their records show the hypocrisy. George W. Bush touts the Bible, but it is doubtful that the higher authority is pleased with him.
Evangelists take credit for electing Bush in the 2004 election and exit polls confirm their declaration. The Evangelists came out in full force in Ohio, and the "Buckeye" state's 20 electoral votes tipped the election to Bush. The religious conservatives showed they can be the most reliable Republicans - similar to African Americans for the Democrats. Nevertheless, most of them are issue oriented, distrustful of government and man-made laws that intrude upon their lives. The Religious Right, in particular, despite its well-financed organizations, hasn't had too much success with its social conservative agenda - no prayer in the schools, no teaching of Creationism, no overthrow of Roe vs. Wade; nothing spectacular. But, it still controls a block for a "swing vote," and that gives it power with the G.O.P.
The New Atheists are concerned with the constant intentions of the Religious Right to modify the social framework to scripture interpretations and with the nominal power the Religious Right derives from its control of a "swing vote." They are more concerned with organized religion's manipulation of the public psyche, and not only in the United States. They believe that organized religion confuses thought and provides fuel for conflicts. The conflicts cannot be resolved until the world subdues one of the principal perpetrators of chauvinism and separation - organized religion.
Part II-The New Atheists
march 1, 2007
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