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

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

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?