Why the Religious Right has got everything wrong

Share
Related Topics
The Bank of Scotland has scrapped a joint banking venture with Pat Robertson, the American TV evangelist, after he made some disparaging remarks about the Land of the Pibroch and the Sporran. It was also, he claimed "a dark land", popular with homosexuals. "You cannot believe how strong homo- sexuals are," he said with unintentional comedy. He adds that Scotland "could go right back into darkness very easily".

I don't know what this remark tells us about Scotland, but what does it tell us about the Land of the Free? Many of us are tempted to suppose that while the United States is seething with religious nutcases, it is protected by its glorious "Godless Constitution". The clever founding fathers who struggled to draft the world's most durable constitution managed to exclude the word God from their politics. Church and State were irrevocably divided in America, and that was what distinguished this rational creation of the Englightenment from the Europeans. Even as the American constitutionalists struggled to get it right in 1787, Edward Gibbon was sitting in Lausanne finishing The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in which he concluded that the greatest civilisation known to humankind fell not because of the Lewinsky-style activities of the Imperial household, not through street crime or narcotics, not through the multiracialism of the legions, nor for their perverse sexual practices with Pict or Scot when on duty at Hadrian's Wall, but through Christianity itself - an essentially anti- social, anti-political and irrational creed which undermined the state and left it vacant to the barbarian hordes.

This benign secularism of Gibbon's wouldn't mean much to the "Religious Right" of today. But how depressing it is to see that Pat Robertson isn't alone. To be a big cheese in American politics these days, you have to be not merely sympathetic to religion, but born again. At an intimate prayer-breakfast for 1,300 people in Philadelphia, Elizabeth Dole confessed that she used to keep God "neatly compartmentalised", but that now she felt "it was time to submit my resignation as master of my own little universe - and God accepted my resignation". George W Bush, the most plausible Republican candidate for the presidency, has told an audience in Houston that "something was missing in his life" - and presumably in his popularity ratings with evangelical bigots - until an encounter with "a Christian prophet" enabled him to "recommit my life to Jesus Christ".

The most bizarre testimonies have come from Vice-President Al Gore, who made a speech to the Salvation Army in which he claimed that the answer to poverty and crime in the cities was not just Private Charity but More Christianity. Mr Gore's wife Tipper is one who "practises her faith and sees its power at work". Those whom Tipper has helped, at a place called Christ House, Washington, with the problems of substance abuse have come to know the "transformative power of faith-based approaches". Take Herlinda - one of the test cases introduced to Mr Gore. One moment a junkie, Herlinda gave her life to the Lord. Now she's employed at Wal- Mart and has been "honored as employee of the month". Christianity thus bandied about by the politicians looks like a catch-all solution. "Faith- based approaches" do not cost the tax-payer one bean. They claim to be able to transform American society into a squeaky-clean Evangelical paradise in which the young people come off crack cocaine and get jobs at Wal-Mart, in which there is no abortion, and in which homosexuals disappear. In God we Trust becomes For God We Vote. This becomes Our Prejudices are Endorsed by God.

The Religious Right used to have various litmus tests for its required political candidates - like, where they stood on a Woman's Right to Choose. Now they ask them up front, eyeball to eyeball: "Have you Been Saved?" Anyone who can't say yes to that question doesn't look as if they'll be in the running for the presidency. "Americans are the most decent people on earth" - Al Gore again - "and America has the highest level of religious belief and observance of any advanced nation". Those of us who half-believe the first half of the statement do not think it has anything to do with the second half. The palpable decency and generosity of the American idea does not depend on the great swarm of ranters and bible-bashers - or it didn't used to. It depended on the inbuilt, sturdy and Godless tolerance of its constitution. This is surely the key sign that America and Europe are now moving in separate ways and already inhabit different spiritual universes. Europe, which used to be dogged by religious conflict, has learnt the wisdom of the American Constitution, and is trying to fashion itself in its rational image, in which the Churches and the State are separate. America, meanwhile, forgets its constitution and transforms itself into an Evangelical theocracy. If it succeeds in this aim it will, like Christian Rome before it, be destroyed by the very God-bothering boobies who think they are preserving its finest traditions. There's only one European leader whom you could even half-imagine wanting to share his sincere religious beliefs with political audiences - our own PM. One of the many American things about Blair is that he always seems as if he's addressing a prayer-breakfast, even, or especially, when he is telling us why it was necessary to bomb an old folks home in Belgrade. At least we can sing Hallelujahs that Blair's spin-doctors and focus groups will never tell him that he should play the holy card if he wants to be re-elected by the cynical and, where religion is concerned, pig- ignorant Brits.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd shrink the gap between the highest and lowest paid

Marina Warner
 

Sorry Britain, but nobody cares about your little election – try being relevant next time

Emanuel Sidea
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power