By Steven T. Jones
Toward the end of Christopher Hitchens' wonderfully caustic anti-tribute to Jerry Falwell on Slate today, he chides the Democratic Party for trying to follow the Republican Party in pandering to the religionists. That's a very real fear that has the potential to do immense damage to this country and its constitutional separation of religion from government.
Image from Sunday's New York Times Review of Books
Just last week, during the Democratic Party fundraiser in San Francisco on which I reported, both national party chair Howard Dean and state party chair Art Torres talked about reaching out to churchgoers. "We believe God is not a Democrat or a Republican. He's a social progressive," Torres said. It was a funny line that broke up the room of party faithful, but it has some serious implications.
There is a dangerous brand of intolerant religious fundamentalism growing in this country, one that Hitchens has rightly challenged in his new book, "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything." Democrats should be challenging it and actively trying to prevent it growing into full-blown fascism, in which intolerance for homosexuals, reproductive choice, multiculturalism, and basic human rights becomes official government policy (this process has already begun in many states, particularly in Falwell's South).
Instead, many Democrats (most notably, Hillary Clinton) have softened their positions on abortion, gay marriage, and separation of church and state in order to win over religious voters. Dean said this is a good thing, and he professes a belief that many religious people are natural allies for the Democrats. "People go to church because they want to know about poverty and Darfur and the environment," he said last week in SF. That may be true for Unitarians and a handful of other denominations, but it ignores the basis for the recent rise in fundamentalism in this country: intolerance, and the belief that American laws should reflect Biblical values and edicts rather than the Enlightenment values and belief in the human intellect on which this country was truly founded.
In other words, don't fall for Falwell's trap.