Thursday, April 12, 2012

Don’t tear down that Wall!

Attack of the TheocratsToday I finished Attack of the Theocrats: How the Religious Right Harms All of Us—And What We Can Do About It by Sean Faircloth. Don’t be put off by the long title. This is a book well worth reading!

Faircloth provides background for Jefferson’s “wall of separation between the church and state” with various quotes and writings from Jefferson, Madison, and other founding fathers. I know there are people who disagree, but I honestly cannot understand how anyone can think that the framers of our republic intended anything other than this separation. Faircloth then discusses the rapid erosion of this barrier over the past three decades or so. With Kennedy’s speech concerning his Catholicism, it seemed that we had left much of this behind us. Then came the religious right in the ‘70s, and they proceeded to do their best to take us back to the Dark Ages...and unfortunately, they have succeeded to a great extent, and are still working hard at it.

Faircloth provides numerous examples of how much we’ve regressed, including our decline in funding for science education and the inevitable loss of standing in the world when it comes to cutting-edge research, but he saves particular ire for parents who refuse medical treatment for their children because of their religious beliefs. I share his outrage, and agree that this medieval practice of treating children like possessions must stop. We must end medical exemptions due to religion when children are involved, and I believe we should prosecute parents who withhold medical treatment.

Sean lays out a detailed plan for how we can plan for a better future and get the message out, and advocates involvement and activism. He makes the point that although it’s a good thing to protest religious displays on public grounds or in government buildings, we might be better off focusing on the physical harm done in the name of religious freedom. I think one of his most important points, Sean Faircloththough, is how to better communicate. We can often be rational and unemotional to the point of being robotic. I am guilty of this myself. He recommends giving a human face to the dangers of religious bias in our laws; for example, instead of merely providing statistics about the increase in cases of preventable infectious diseases because of parents’ religious beliefs or faulty science beliefs, we can provide examples of real children who were harmed by such beliefs. There are real and serious consequences to these things, including deafness, blindness, permanent organ damage, and even death; although we value our objectivity and rationality, sometimes you just need to tell the damn story.

To be perfectly clear, Faircloth’s position is not one of prohibiting religious freedom. In fact, I don’t know of anyone advocating a secular approach to government who demands this. Everyone is free to practice as they wish. But the lines must be drawn at allowing harm to come to children because of religious bias, or basing laws on any religious tome. Those who believe we should have prayer in schools or teach creationism in our science classrooms are invariably advocating for the Judeo-Christian religious viewpoint. I don’t see anyone clamoring for a muezzin calling our children to prayer every day!

Church and stateAnd that is the broader point here: the First Amendment is a protection for the government from religious bias, and a protection for religion from government bias. If the government endorses Christianity, what is to stop them from one day enforcing another religion? A religion that Christians don’t like all that much, or maybe even a religion some Christians think is evil? It is a sword that cuts both ways, and it is to everyone’s best interest, as well as the best interest of our country, that we abide by what Jefferson and other founding fathers intended. I am certain that their intentions did not involve basing our laws on the Bible or any other religious book, planning foreign policy in accordance with Biblical prophecy, or allowing American children to perish because of religious beliefs, no matter which religion.
I think anyone, religious or nonreligious, would benefit from reading this book. Faircloth makes excellent points about the danger of tearing down the Wall. He is non-confrontational, but makes it clear that the senseless maiming and deaths of children or of anyone because of religious bias is simply not an option in 21st century America.

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