Religion takes center stage in this presidential election as human rights hang in the balance. We’ve been here before.
Last week, when the presidential primary moved from Iowa to New Hampshire, Marco Rubio made his way through a small diner. The New York Times reported that a man named Timothy Kierstead confronted him. “Why do you want to put me back in the closet,” he asked Rubio.
Rubio assured him he didn’t, but then told Kierstead, married to his partner, who was also dining with him, “I just believe marriage is between one man and one woman.” He went on to say, “I think that’s what the law should be. And if you don’t agree you should have the law changed by a legislature.”
As it turns out, the law in New Hampshire was changed by legislature, before the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage legal everywhere. Yet, Rubio, as he has stated, plans to stack the Supreme Court in a way that could have the ruling overturned. Why? Simply because Rubio deems his belief is more important than the human rights of millions of Americans who believe differently.
We’ve seen this before.
In 1963, when Martin Luther King began marching for civil rights, he raised the ire of fellow Christians. Rev. Billy Graham told King, “Put the brakes on a little bit,” while other white religious leaders went on to denounce him. It was a time when white America reigned supreme. Black Americans were the servants. Most thought little about racial segregation, until King challenged the establishment. One man stated in the 2011 PBS special, Freedom Riders, that though he was raised with black helpers and nannies in his house, they were invisible to him.
Famed evangelical minister, Bob Jones, of Bob Jones University, delivered a message at that time in 1960, stating, “When you run into conflict with God’s established order racially, you have trouble…You produce destruction and trouble, and this nation is in the greatest danger it has ever been in in its history.”
Writer Jason Sokol said, “Many whites denounced the ‘Civil Wrongs Bill,’ holding that such federal laws imperiled their own rights. They clung to the notion that rights were finite, and that as blacks gained freedom, whites must suffer a loss of their own liberties.” The disturbing result of the civil rights movement is that our American history is forever marred by violence and death, in the name of God and established order.
Before and since marriage equality, states rushed to pass legislation to ensure “religious liberties” were maintained. Public bakeries, pizza parlors, florists and other venues set out to make a point, that they were on the side of God by not catering to men and women who sought their services. Once again, as with the civil rights movement, influential pastors stood on platforms and made statements about messing with God’s established order of things. Franklin Graham, son of the Dr. Billy Graham, warned “There is a storm that’s coming.” Almost repeating Bob Jones’ 1960 speech, he went on to say, “I just want to warn you, and I do this in love, that God will judge sin. God takes sin very seriously. God cannot tolerate sin in his presence.”
Society and science tend to move forward while religious fundamentalists do not. We know that other races are not inferior to white people and women are not inferior to men, as was believed for millennia. We know that biology influences gender expression and sexual orientation, and that it is now known to be a natural variation in humans and other animals.
Despite the fundamentalist naysayers expectation that society will fall apart if a way of life is adopted that contradicts their world view, the exact opposite is true.
In 2014, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) rated 10 states with the best and worst qualities of life. What they found was that the states that claimed to be most “God fearing,” such as states in the South, had a worse quality of life than those states that had become secularized.
Psychologist Phil Zuckerman noted, “The correlation is clear and strong: the more secular tend to fare better than the more religious on a vast host of measures, including homicide and violent crime rates, poverty rates, obesity and diabetes rates, child abuse rates, educational attainment levels, income levels, unemployment rates, rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy, etc. You name it: on nearly every sociological measure of well-being, you’re most likely to find the more secular states with the lowest levels of faith in God and the lowest rates of church attendance faring the best and the most religious states with the highest levels of faith in God and rates of church attendance faring the worst.”
One of the problems with belief in God is that it is purely subjective. There are over 41,000 Christian denominations, according to a Pew Research study. Catholics believe in purgatory and praying to the saints, Mormons baptize for the dead, and most Pentecostals don’t believe Catholics or Mormons are even Christians. There is no proof that God exists, let alone any solid determination about which religion, denomination, or sect is correct.
In my research on belief, I’ve asked people of vastly different points of view on God and the Bible, or their faith, if it was other than Christian, and I heard the same answer: “I’ve prayed about it and I feel right about it in my soul.” Some explained their relationship with God as “accepting,” “loving” and “personal.” All believed that they were right and others were wrong, though some said they believed that God accepted everyone, regardless of his or her statement of faith or lack thereof.
Religion is often used as a method of control by overtly, or covertly, instilling fear in its followers. Kevin Kruse, author of One Nation Under God, notes how religion and politics first began to intermingle in the 1950s, under President Eisenhower. In fact, it was the 1950s when the phrase, “one nation under God” was added to our pledge of allegiance in response to the atheistic communism of the Soviet Union. Capitalism caught the wave and, according to Kruse, “recruited and funded conservative clergy to preach faith, freedom and free enterprise.” Today, over 60 years later, conservative politicians tout the same message. They do it with heavier and more dyer consequences from God almighty, if we don’t follow their brand of faith.
Religion tends to be divisive, as evidenced by the wars between the Shiites and Sunnies in the Middle East, or the Catholics and the Protestants throughout European history. Some conservatives couldn’t even get behind Mitt Romney in the 2012 election because he wasn’t their kind of Christian. Still, politicians cater to the base emotions of those demanding religious freedoms at the expense of those who ask for no more than dignity and respect as human beings. It’s time we take a good look at what we’re doing and decide what kind of society we want for our future.
Photo – Flickr/Mike Licht