God is back in the US with a vengeance

Oklahoma's Republican Senator believes in the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions
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The Independent Online

In this country, we don't worry much about religion. In a culture where faith has lost most of its influence, having embarked some time ago on an apparently irreversible slide into irrelevance, Tony Blair's remarks about his Christian beliefs raise eyebrows. So one of the biggest shocks of last week's presidential election is the realisation that God is back with a vengeance in US politics. Opinion polls reveal it was not Iraq or the "war on terror" that exercised millions of Americans as they went to the polling booths, but moral values - conservative, Christian moral values - which topped the list of issues on voters' minds.

In this country, we don't worry much about religion. In a culture where faith has lost most of its influence, having embarked some time ago on an apparently irreversible slide into irrelevance, Tony Blair's remarks about his Christian beliefs raise eyebrows. So one of the biggest shocks of last week's presidential election is the realisation that God is back with a vengeance in US politics. Opinion polls reveal it was not Iraq or the "war on terror" that exercised millions of Americans as they went to the polling booths, but moral values - conservative, Christian moral values - which topped the list of issues on voters' minds.

All over America, evangelical churches got their congregations out for the Republican candidate. "The Christian right now owns George W Bush, lock, stock and barrel", declared a Florida newspaper, The Tampa Tribune. Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition of America, the "leading grassroots organisation defending our Godly heritage", was one of many church-based groups that worked tirelessly on his behalf, sending out millions of "voter guides" in English and Spanish. This is perhaps the main reason why supporters of the Democrat candidate, John Kerry, were tragically misguided when they predicted that a high turnout would favour their man.

The coalition announced that it was dedicated to making sure every Christian registered to vote, launching its "voting makes a difference" campaign with an unfortunate analogy, the claim that Hitler won the leadership of the German Nazi party in 1923 by one vote. Robertson's organisation promised to see "the political tide of this nation continue to turn away from liberalism and towards traditional family values in legislatures all across the land" - and it did. In South Dakota, for instance, the veteran Democrat Tom Daschle, who led his party in the Senate for 10 years, lost his seat to the Republican candidate John Thune, an anti-abortion Christian conservative who supports constitutional amendments banning flag-burning and gay marriage.

In Oklahoma, the successful Republican candidate Tom Coburn described the election contest as "a battle between good and evil". Coburn's bons mots include claims that "the gay community has infiltrated the very centres of power" and that the "gay agenda" is a bigger threat to the nation than terrorism; in August he said he had been told that "lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in south-east Oklahoma that they only let one girl go to the bathroom" at a time. Coburn also believes in the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions.

He will be joined in the Senate by Jim DeMint, Republican victor in South Carolina, who apologised after saying in an election debate that openly gay people shouldn't be allowed to teach in state schools. DeMint explained that he would feel the same about a single pregnant woman who lived with her boyfriend. "Folks teaching in our schools need to reflect our values," he said. Rocco Buttiglione, Italy's rejected candidate for the post of EU home affairs commissioner, must be wondering why he didn't stand for a seat in the US Senate instead.

This is a shift to the Christian right on a scale that no one, outside the country's evangelical churches, had even begun to imagine before polling day. In the face of this terrifying prospect, we must remember that almost half of Americans who voted last week didn't want this - and they still don't. It is a true clash of civilisations, but not in the sense that the man who coined the phrase, Samuel Huntington, intended: not East vs West, Muslim vs Christian, but crazed religious zealots vs the secular values of the Enlightenment.

Make no mistake: these people really hate us, and by "us" I mean anyone who isn't signed up to their fire-and-brimstone view of the world. Gay Anglicans and liberal Catholics such as John Kerry are no more welcome than atheists and agnostics. "I have knocked on the door of this man's soul and found someone home," cried the turncoat Democratic Senator from Georgia, Zell Miller, eulogising the Republican candidate two months ago. Welcome to Bush II: the Theocracy. There's not much point in saying God help us all, since I don't believe in Him, but this Crusader-President certainly won't.

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