Beware The Politics Of Self-Righteous Zealotry.

For many years, we’ve heard network pundits talk about a “war on Christianity” and call for the US to officially become a Christian nation. Such talk would have made our Founding Fathers cringe. After all, many of them had settled in the US, like some of my ancestors did, as the result of religious persecution in Europe. Our earliest European settlers were Puritans, Huguenots, Quakers, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Jews and others who had fled their homes in search of religious freedom.

Yet, some of the original colonies themselves began imposing their religious views on others, claiming that a particular denomination was the official religion of the colony and taxing all citizens to support that denomination. It was as a result of such discrimination that those who wrote the US Constitution included the wording that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Nevertheless, preying on our citizens’ fear of radical Islamic terrorism, many of our political candidates continue to call for the US to be named a Christian nation. One wants to prohibit certain immigrants based on their religion. Others want to “return our nation to its Christian values.”

That may be good politics. But it is dangerous policy. After all, almost every atrocity in the world has been committed in the name of righteousness – crimes committed as the result of zealotry for an ideology based on the ends justifying the means.

Such atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity, Islam, Judaism…even Buddhism. But the problem doesn’t just lie with religion. Out of the same kind of self-righteous zealotry, they have also been committed in the name of communism, fascism and capitalism. Almost always, such crimes are not considered crimes by those committing them – the true believers believe that they are doing the right thing for their religion, their nation or their children. Such was the case when the Bush administration zealously decided to impose democracy in Iraq resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands (some say hundreds of thousands) Iraqis.

There have been examples of other destructive examples of self-righteous zealotry in the US. The KKK murdered blacks under the cross of Christianity. Senator Joe McCarthy accused, investigated, blacklisted and imprisoned many who failed to demonstrate that they were not communists or communist sympathizers (it’s always difficult to prove a negative). The same mentality led to the John Birch Society which believed both the Soviet Union and the US were led by a cabal of internationalists, bankers and corrupt politicians. Its leader even accused President Eisenhower of being a communist. The same rightwing conservatives wrapped themselves in the cloak of Christianity to draw greater distinctions between righteous Americans and the godless communists. To distinguish themselves from communism, they pushed through legislation replacing the original national motto “E Pluribus Unum” – from many one – with “In God We Trust.” They added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. And congressional members of The Fellowship, aka The Family, instituted the National Prayer Breakfast at the capitol, a quasi-governmental Christian event that has been held every year since 1953.

Much of the conservative-based zealotry was driven underground after Edward R. Murrow focused attention on the abuses of McCarthyism and after William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater shunned the John Birch Society. But the ideology never went away. As a result, we are now seeing conservatives again using religion to divide. The movement again raised its ugly head with the “Moral Majority” of the 70s and 80s. About the same time, the GOP’s “southern strategy” reached out to racist southern Democrats who were outraged by the Civil Rights Act. GOP politicians also latched onto the issues of abortion and the so-called “sanctity of marriage” to embolden the “righteous” and further divide us. And they claim that any attempt to prevent the establishment of Christianity as the official state religion – the placement of Christian symbols and the institution of mandatory Christian prayers in public schools and government meetings – is a “war on Christianity.” You can hear such accusations at any GOP presidential debate, at most GOP rallies and on GOP media such as Fox News Channel.

Now you may wonder, what harm could come from institutionalizing Christian values in our government? The answer lies in history – the history of Christian Protestants and others being persecuted and driven out of their homes by Catholic Christians. That’s not to say that Catholicism is any worse, or better, than other religions. It’s just that one person’s religious values can easily become another person’s religious persecution.

Though it is true that the US has long been predominately Christian, it has never been a Christian nation, and it never should be. When we hear politicians like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and others call for special treatment of those who believe in one religion over another, or over those who believe in no religion at all, we should all be mindful that our Founding Fathers created our Constitution and our government to end tyranny, including tyranny by the majority.

To learn how a government led by a self-righteous authoritarian like Trump might look like, I encourage you to read Thom Hartmann’s excellent essay for AlterNet.org.

No Religious Test.

Dr. Ben Carson’s recent statement that no Muslim should ever be allowed to become president of the US not only reveals his willingness as an evangelical Christian to discriminate against a significant portion of the US population. It also reveals his ignorance of the Constitution. To wit, Article VI states, “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

If that statement is not clear enough, the First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The author of this amendment, James Madison, believed it necessary since many of the original states had not only favored one denomination over another. Many of the states collected taxes from their citizens on behalf of their established religions. For example, Georgia, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia had established the Anglican church as their official religion. Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire were Congregationalist. While Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island had no established religions. Moreover, each of the states were populated with citizens who practiced an array of other religions.

Further, many of the Founding Fathers declared no preferred religion. Some, like Thomas Jefferson were deists, meaning that they believed in a Creator, but did not believe in organized religion. Indeed, Jefferson had gone so far as to create his own version of the Bible, eliminating the Old Testament and all of the passages detailing the accounts of revelations from God. He chose to focus, instead, on the teachings of Jesus calling it The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.

Given all of this, it’s preposterous to believe that the Founders ever intended the US to be a Christian nation…or a nation favoring any religion.

Yet, today, right wing evangelicals would have us believe that the US was founded exclusively on Christian principles. When more educated people deny their claims, the evangelicals then cry that “Christianity is under attack” and “the only thing that will return the US to its former greatness is to reaffirm its Christian principles.”

Hogwash!

For one thing, as I’ve explained, the Founders expressly forbade any established religion or faith. Second, studies have shown that atheists are actually more moral than their Christian counterparts. Studies have also shown that, rather than Christians being under attack, atheists are the group most subject to discrimination.

If you doubt that, ask yourself if an avowed atheist or a Buddhist or a Taoist or a Hindu or a Muslim could ever be elected President of the United States. Ask yourself what would happen if an atheist refused to issue marriage licenses to Christians based on religious freedom in the same way Kim Davis has discriminated against same sex marriage. Note how all of our candidates fall over one another to show that one is more “Christian” than another. With all of the candidates’ declarations of God Bless America, the answer should be obvious.

Clearly, we have established a religious test for office contrary to the Constitution. And I think the Founding Fathers would be horrified.

A Voter’s Guide To The GOP Debate.

Now that the defacto head of the Republican Party, Roger Ailes of Fox News Channel, has announced the participants in the first GOP presidential debate, here are a few things you should know about the candidates:

Donald Trump – You already know he’s rich (he tells everyone at every opportunity) and that he’s a bully and blowhard. But did you know that, despite inheriting a fortune from his father, he has filed for bankruptcy protection four times? Or that, on multiple occasions, it has been reported that he has ties to the Mob? Or that Trump was the target of a 1979 bribery investigation? Or that virtually every statement he has made during his presidential campaign has been a lie? To learn more, watch the documentary at TrumpTheMovie.com.

Jeb Bush – You know that he is the son of George HW Bush and the brother of George W Bush. But do you know that it is well-documented that he actively subverted our democratic process by helping to steal the 2000 presidential election in Florida? Did you know that he has the same neo-con foreign policy advisors as his brother – the ones who led us into an unnecessary and unjustifiable war in Iraq? Did you know that the job growth he claims as governor of Florida came almost exclusively from the housing bubble? And that, when the bubble burst, the median income for Floridians declined by $5,700 – double that of the nation as a whole? Or that 200,000 fewer Florida families own their homes than in 2005?

Scott Walker – The only presidential candidate currently under indictment. John Dean, general counsel for the Nixon administration has said of Walker, “I find him more Nixonian than even Richard Nixon himself…a conservative without a conscience.” After Walker was elected, he has shown himself to be the ultimate bully and dictator. In addition to stripping state employee unions of collective bargaining rights, he led the gerrymandering of legislative districts, stacked the state’s Supreme Court then rewrote campaign finance laws and tried to narrow the open records law.

And what about Wisconsin’s economy under Walker? Thanks to GOP-style tax cuts, the state’s spending exceeds revenue, the state’s GDP ratio has dropped to -9.9 percent and the state’s federal spending to revenue ratio has nearly doubled. Wisconsin now receives $1.59 for each $1.00 it contributes in taxes.

Mike Huckabee – Once a fairly moderate governor, Huckabee seems to have gone nuts. Maybe it’s because you have to be batcrap crazy to win in the GOP. Maybe he spent too much time on Fox News Channel. Or maybe he’s been hearing too many voices. He calls evolution a theory (By the same standard, gravity is just a theory), not an established fact. He doesn’t believe in gay marriage, contraception, abortion or transgender rights. He wants to change the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards. He thinks it would be great if Americans were forced at gunpoint, if necessary, to listen to every message from David Barton (evangelist and author). And he is delusional enough to believe that most of our Founding Fathers were clergymen. (Yeah, that’s why they called for separation of Church and State.)

Marco Rubio – The GOP’s great Latino hope, Rubio has long claimed to be a refugee of Castro’s Cuba. Only the records show that his family left Cuba more than two years before the Cuban Revolution. He doesn’t believe man has contributed to climate change. He doesn’t believe in the minimum wage, abortion or employer coverage of contraception. He does, however, support comprehensive immigration reform. And though he receives a handsome salary as a US Senator, he moonlights as a university teacher, causing him to miss 99 Senate votes in 4 years – 8.3 percent!

Ben Carson – He’s smart and a celebrated surgeon, but when it comes to politics, he’s a wacko as they come. He supports a flat tax (he calls it a “proportional tax” in reference to the biblical tithe) which would destroy the poor and the middle class. He is stridently anti-gay rights, believing homosexuality is a choice and he likens gay marriage to pedophilia and bestiality. He said the Affordable Care Act is “the worst thing that has happened to this nation since slavery.” His answer to Obamacare is creating a health savings account for every American at birth. Apparently, when the money in the account has run out (and for many it will), you die.

Rand Paul – Anti-government, anti-tax, anti-abortion, anti-gun control and pro-states’ rights. He believes the primary Constitutional function of the federal government is national defense. ‘Nuff said.

Ted Cruz – Mr. filibuster and Tea Party darling. Cruz’s only real accomplishments prior to the Senate were to strengthen the NRA, help prepare testimony for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and help steal the 2000 election for George W Bush. In the Senate, about all he has done is to shut down the government, sponsor bills to repeal Obamacare and lie. Of the 50 statements fact-checked by Politifact Texas, 35 have been rated mostly false, false or pants on fire false.

Chris Christie – A bully who showed his true colors with Bridgegate, the conspiracy to punish a mayor who did not support his re-election. He also sold out his constituents by allowing Exxon Mobil to pay less than 3 percent of the cost to clean up the environmental contamination at two sites. And, under Christie’s leadership, New Jersey’s credit rating has been downgraded nine times in five years.

John Kasich – Literally, one of only three GOP candidates (the others, Jim Gilmore and George Pataki, were not included in the debate) who has a history of success and working across the aisle. Of course, that means he doesn’t stand a chance of getting the GOP nomination.

So there you have it. That’s the list of leading GOP presidential candidates. Proceed with caution.