Monday, December 10, 2012

How religion is remaking our world

(via Facebook)

Look at how religion is remaking our world. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

Sure, I know these photos don't tell the whole story, but this is pretty much how I feel these days, in a nutshell.

I'm a baby boomer. I lived this. I marched against the Vietnam war. I saw the developing world looking to America for inspiration. Believe it or not, this magazine cover actually made perfect sense back then:

When I grew up, everyone I knew was a Christian, but that didn't seem to be particularly important. Most people went to church, but everyone supported our secular government. Democrats and Republicans upheld the separation of church and state (in principle, at least, if not always in practice).

And when I went to college, religion simply wasn't an issue. We were going to create a new world, rising above the parochialism and the superstition of the past. We hoped to end war, and maybe that wouldn't be easy, but it never even occurred to us that the world would still have religious wars! What, was this still the Dark Ages?

Back then, even in Nebraska, there were only a handful - a small handful - of religious nuts on campus. We called them the 'God squad' and pretty much just laughed at them, when we noticed them at all. If you'd told me they'd be running our country in a few decades, I would never have believed you. None of us would have believed anything that crazy.

But this was back when the Republican Party was just beginning its notorious 'Southern strategy.' The South was still solidly Democratic. All those right-wing Dixiecrats - those racist white Southerners who'd been fighting bitterly with the rest of the country for more than a century - hadn't yet migrated into the Republican Party.

And unfortunately, in America - and elsewhere in the world, too - the forces of superstition and ignorance were plotting their return.

Right-wingers took firm control of the Catholic Church, reigning in the liberalism which had been developing there. (I'm serious. But I know, liberalism in the Catholic Church is really hard to believe these days, isn't it?) Evangelicals and fundamentalists threw off the moderation of mainstream Protestantism, and Muslim radicals turned to violence to force their views on everyone else (and especially on women).

This is not the world we'd hoped for when I was young. When we landed on the Moon, we didn't expect to then return to the Middle Ages. I saw this happen. I watched every bit of it, astonished that it was happening, arguing futilely against it, trying to push back the tide.

And not just when it comes to religion, either. I watched us ignore the lessons of the Arab Oil Embargo, turning instead to the "Don't Worry, Be Happy" philosophy of the 1980s. I saw trickle-down economics - which even Republican leaders called "voodoo economics" - take control of the GOP. How could Americans be dumb enough to think that tax cuts for the rich is all our economy needed?

I grew up at a time when a presidential candidate could say this, to widespread admiration:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President -- should he be Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

Yes, that was a Democrat (although even Democrats would shy away from most of that, these days), but it was mainstream thinking in America when I grew up. And it was the kind of thinking that inspired the rest of the world, too - including people in majority Muslim nations. America was admired. We really were that shining city upon a hill, for many people. It wasn't just PR back then.

Well, we've progressed in many ways. We really have. A black president would have been unimaginable back then, let alone gay marriage. But we've also regressed towards fantasy and superstition. We haven't been back to the Moon in four decades. (Heck, right now, America can no longer get into space at all.)

By and large, I blame the Republican Party's 'Southern strategy' for much of this. It was too successful. It put all the crazies into one political party,... and it turned out they were a majority after all (or, at least, a majority of those few Americans willing to pay attention to politics and to actually get off the couch to vote).

But I don't know. There's always a backlash. No progress is ever guaranteed. If we stop fighting, even for a moment, we regress. It's scary right now, because we've got a lot of serious problems. We human beings simply can't afford to stick our heads in the sand and just believe pleasant fantasies.

But we've always had serious problems. It's always been a fight, and it's always been a minority of people struggling forward against the reactionaries seeking to hold us back. So I suppose I'm just getting old. I think of what might have been, when I should be thinking of what could still be.

For me, that photo is just depressing. But for young people, it should be a call to arms.

PS. My thanks to Jim Harris for the link. (But the exaggerations here - and I do generalize too much, I know that - are all my own fault.)

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