Monday, March 28, 2005

Here's a thorny question: Is it counterproductive to publicly demean the radical religious right--to, for example, sneer at Pat Robertson? Would it make more sense to talk about what we believe and offer than to go out of our way to make enemies of evangelicals? OR. Do we need to stand up unapologetically against Bible thumpers who are trying to take over the country?
Obviously, the politicians who pander to them are contemptible. In a New York Times column, Frank Rich allows as how: "American moguls, snake-oil salesmen and politicians looking to score riches or power will stop at little if they feel it is in their interests to exploit God to achieve those ends." The Schiavo case is only one example of it. But even more unnerving than the "religio-hucksterism" we see from Republican politicians is the screed Rich offers of inroads the religious right is making into public life generally:
All this is happening while polls consistently show that at most a fifth of the country subscribes to the religious views of those in the Republican base whom even George Will, speaking last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," acknowledged may be considered "extremists." In that famous Election Day exit poll, "moral values" voters amounted to only 22 percent. Similarly, an ABC News survey last weekend found that only 27 percent of Americans thought it was "appropriate" for Congress to "get involved" in the Schiavo case and only 16 percent said it would want to be kept alive in her condition. But a majority of American colonists didn't believe in witches during the Salem trials either - any more than the Taliban reflected the views of a majority of Afghans. At a certain point - and we seem to be at that point - fear takes over, allowing a mob to bully the majority over the short term. (Of course, if you believe the end is near, there is no long term.)
That bullying, stoked by politicians in power, has become omnipresent, leading television stations to practice self-censorship and high school teachers to avoid mentioning "the E word," evolution, in their classrooms, lest they arouse fundamentalist rancor. The president is on record as saying that the jury is still out on evolution, so perhaps it's no surprise that The Los Angeles Times has uncovered a three-year-old "religious rights" unit in the Justice Department that investigated a biology professor at Texas Tech because he refused to write letters of recommendation for students who do not accept evolution as "the central, unifying principle of biology." Cornelia Dean of The New York Times broke the story last weekend that some Imax theaters, even those in science centers, are now refusing to show documentaries like "Galápagos" or "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" because their references to Darwin and the Big Bang theory might antagonize some audiences. Soon such films will disappear along with biology textbooks that don't give equal time to creationism.

I do recommend that you take the time to read Rich's whole column.
It's been almost eight years since my husband and I retired from teaching high school English, and we were both always pushing the envelope, broaching and discussing the social and political questions that literature raises. It sometimes got us in hot water. I wonder if that would get us called on the school board carpet today.
And I'm still wondering how vocally we ought to push back against the religious extremists. What are your thoughts on the matter?


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