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If you believe any of the hogwash about the irrelevance of the religious right to this election, take a look at the numerous right-wing evangelical websites promoting the 40/40 Prayer Vigil, which began in September with a prayer for Christian voter registration and ends–you guessed it–just before election day, Nov. 2. The 40/40 stands for the forty days and forty nights that Jesus supposedly spent wandering in the desert before finally saying no to Satan’s temptations. I’m sure that you won’t have any trouble figuring out which political party the Southern Baptist Convention–America’s largest religious denomination and one of the many evangelical groups sponsoring pre-election prayer vigils–hopes will inspire its voters to just say no to the satanic works of government. It’s perfectly legal; after all; none of these sites actually say that the purpose of these prayer fest/voter registration drives is to support Tea Party and Republican candidates who share the religious rights views on cultural issues.
But just look at the iVoteValues packet that appears on the websites of many Southern Baptist churches and state affiliates. Each church is advised to organize an iVoteValues team responsible for:
* Planning, advertising and conducting non-partisan voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives.
* Educating the congregation regarding biblical teaching on civil government, the responsibility for culture engagement, and the importance of being informed by biblical principles when considering current issues, candidates’ positions, etc.
* Mobilizing members of the congregation to vote their values.
Oh, and let the church not forget to provide transportation to the polls for those who need it. In a strictly nonpartisan spirit, of course. What is so ingenious and insidious about all of this is that the tax-exempt churches manage to stay just this side of their Internal Revenue Service exemption by using that single word “nonpartisan.” If you think any of those church members, well-schooled in their particular version of biblical teaching on civil government, are voting for liberal or centrist politicians, I have a bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn to sell you.
Again, my point is not that any of this activity is illegal. African-American churches have conducted similar voter registration drives for years, and we know that African Americans generally vote Democratic.The point is that church-based registration offers a graphic demonstration of why secular get-out-the-vote efforts are at a permanent political disadvantage in this country. And the right benefits most, because it has the largest churchgoing constituency in this nation.
No secular organization is capable of mounting anything like an organized, church-funded campaign to recruit new voters. Churches reach deep into the daily lives of their most devout members in a way that no secular group can (or, for that matter, would want to do). Secular humanism and atheism are not religions, and no one goes to the First Church of Atheism to find out what Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens has to say about how to “vote our values.” The whole idea of registering voters, while engaging in some ritual reflection for forty days before an election, would be laughable to most secularists.
All of the usual suspects are involved in efforts to get out the religious right vote in this election, as Americans United For Separation of Church and State reports in the new isssue of Church and State magazine. The main organizer of Pray & A.C.T., another 40-day bout of prayer and fasting prior to the elections, is the Rev. Jim Garlow, a longtime associate of Newt Gingrich.
This is good news for the Tea Party, the Republican Party, and all who support religious intrusion into civil government. It is bad news for Democrats (as it was for the moderate Republican Mike Castle in Delaware), liberals, true libertarians (Rand Paul has renounced whatever libertarian principles he had in order to court the values voters of the religious right) and anyone who upholds the separation of church and state. While a minority of atheists are right-wingers in the tradition of Ayn Rand–you can read a few on this thread–the majority of secular voters are humanists, civil libertarians and economic liberals. The well-organized efforts of this religious right in this election are bad news, therefore, for all secular causes.
There has been a lot of blather from pundits about the Tea Party being an expression of populist economic rage rather than another manifestion of the religious right’s long-term focus on cultural issues. It is about both but of the two, the tie to the religious right is most important. The candidates who are going to receive the votes of people being registered in right-wing churches are opposed to all forms of gay rights, women’s reproductive rights, respect for the separation of church and state and in favor of every form of religious entanglement with government. They have pursued and will pursue their goals in good economic times and in bad.
There is another reason why the secular vote will be a much smaller proportion of the total vote in this election than it was in 2008. Younger voters are more secular than their elders and the new, young voters who registered to support Barack Obama have no ties to any organization that stresses the civic obligation to vote in all elections. In a brilliant article, titled “Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” in a recent issue of The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell explains exactly why the internet, which requires minimal effort and little direct social involvement, is such a good recruiting tool for short-term enthusiasms but fails utterly as an organizer for long-term social causes. Blogging has nothing in common, in terms of level of commitment, with going to church every week and helping out with your church’s voter registration drive–or, for that matter, with the strenous get-out-the-vote efforts of old-fashioned political party machines.
Throughout the twentieth century, American intellectuals of many generations made the mistake of proclaiming that right-wing fundamentalist religion was on its deathbed. They said so after the 1925 Scopes trial, when Clarence Darrow made a fool out of the fundamentalist hero, William Jennings Bryan, on the witness stand. They said so in the late 1960s, when God was proclaimed dead. The intellectuals didn’t know that God was alive and well among fundamentalists, who then and there began organizing a network of Christians schools that would provide an education from kindergarten to college. Intellectuals made the same mistake again after Obama was elected, when pundit after pundit declared that the religion-driven culture wars were over. This was an utter delusion. The people who believe that the universe was created in six days are alive, well, and coming to a church voter registration table near you.
Note: In last week’s posts, I would have found the discussion of whether there is a nonreligious reason for condemning homosexuality quite hilarious–if only I hadn’t awakened to yet another story, this time out of the Bronx, about young men being tortured because they were thought to be gay. What can someone who purports to be a rational thinker be thinking when he says that “it is absolutely true that nature designed male and female body parts to be used together in a way that male-male parts are not.” First, if you know anything about evolution, you must know that nature, alas, is no more of an intelligent designer than any god. Yes, male and female “body parts” are the only ones that can be used for reproduction–but nature has provided us, male and female created she them, with a lot of pleasure-giving body parts that have nothing to do with reproduction. I hate to break it to you, but there are all sorts of conjunctions between men, between women, and between the two sexes that work quite well to provide such pleasure. Anything found in nature–and homosexuality, like left-handedness, is a common variation–is natural. To say that nature “intended” or “designed” something, and that any minority variation is therefore “unintended,” is to betray as much ignorance about evolution as any firebreathing fundaamentalist preacher or senatorial candidate who rejects evolution because she never saw a monkey turning into a man. I never saw a monkey turning into a homosexual man either, but since homosexuality is found in both species, I must conclude that some gay monkey did evolve.