FUNDAMENTALIST GOVERNMENT

Alexandre at politX is concerned about creeping irrationality in U.S. politics:

I have one great fear in politics: irrationality. It does not matter the form it takes, when people began to make political choices based solely on religious, racial, regional or whatever prejudices, things go sour. I can live peacefully under any government, even if it represents everything I disagree with, as long as their decisions are presented with some respect to the laws of logic, ethics and other people̢۪s rights.

The most powerful nation on Earth is drifting towards what can only be described as a fundamentalist government and, around the world, the practice of religious prejudices shaping policy is becoming so widespread that we barely notice it or complain about it anymore.

Religious conservatism is quickly becoming mainstream thought in U.S. and in many other countries. We can discuss the causes of it, but more important is to acknowledge a new political development taking place: the traditional right being devoured, willingly or not, by a more extremist, religion-centered right. Weak as it may be in Europe, such development is a major, and often unnoticed, factor behind recent electoral and political news in other places.

Because all of this, I think it is pitiable the attack of the always pathetic Lieberman on Howard Dean. Not that I think Dean is the best shot the Democrats have on the next presidential election, but because it shows clearly how these guys have lost touch with reality and with the kind of conservative dream these Republicans want to bring to life.

To all of us that do not live in the U.S., the issue is relevant because if everything we are reading on the Bush agenda is true, it will not stop there (extremist agendas are always universal). It has already crossed borders, mainly using money in ridiculous attempts of thwarting contraception programs in third-world countries, but I think it is just flexing muscles to more bullying.

While I’m not at all religious, I’m in a distinct minority in the U.S., which is considerably more religious and fundamentalist than our cousins across the pond. Given that we have representative government, it’s not surprising that the value systems of that majority are being expressed in public policy. Most of the issues that are given as example–gay rights and abortion, most notably–were non-factors thirty years ago or so, as they were just off the radar screen.

As I’ve said many times, religious conservatives have every bit as much right to advocate their views and seek to have them turned into policy as do homosexuals, libertarians, anarchists, and utilitarians.

We have a Constitution that guarantees certain fundamental liberties and protects the minority from their encroachment. Among the foremost of these is the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment, which guarantees that the federal government won’t establish a theocracy. The courts have more recently incorporated this protection against state and local governments. But the Establishment Clause has never been thought to enjoin those with religious views from seeking to enact their preferences into the secular law. Indeed, much of our legal code is inspired by religious morality. The fact that murder and robbery are forbidden by statute is not obviated by the fact that they are also forbidden by the Ten Commandments. While the Courts have created a right to an abortion, this does not require, for example, that the taxpayers fund abortion in Africa via their UN dues. The fact that most of the arguments against abortion are religious is irrelevant.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. John says:

    I think if Religion wants to get into politics, then it should be taxed like the rest of us. They can’t have it both ways, in my book.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I don’t disagree with you on that. But what I’m talking about isn’t so much Organized Religion involving itself in politics but rather religiously motivated individuals.

  3. John says:

    If that were the case, it’d be just fine and dandy. But what is happening is quite different from that. For example, the whole fiasco with DeLay and Bauer regarding the Mideast. Or the Creationism vs. Evolution continual madness. Then there’s always the 10 commandments side shows. The gay civil union thing is another. The list is really quite, quite long. Point is, almost none of these would be an issue if it weren’t for very well organized religion stepping into politics. It’s not just a group of people who happen to have religious views doing most of the heavy lifting. It’s the massive wealth and organization that is being leveraged. And that is pretty terrifying (when I have my tinfoil hat on).

  4. I’m startled at the mention of “thwarting contraception programs” abroad. I know public funding has been cut from abortion programs at various times, but I’ve *never* heard of withholding public funding for contraception.

    Unless Alexandre is conflating contraception with abortion, which some people do. But they are different things.

  5. John, I’m at a loss to see how religion is affecting “gay civil union laws.” Most of the religious reluctance has to do with using the label “marriage.” Religious resistance lessens if the “civil union” label is used.

    But when there is a push on for gay civil unions, and the push is inevitably going to be successful, how can you point to religious resistance to this change, and say, “see? They are losing the fight. Therefore, the religious nuts are taking over.”

    I just don’t get it. If anything, civil unions will show a triumph of modernism over traditional religion.

  6. Matthew says:

    I hated when Martin Luther King brought organized religion into politics, too 😉

  7. John says:

    Well, I note that they are doing their level best to confuse the issue between marriage and civil unions. But my point is not limited to this one single area. And as to contraception vs. abortion, you should actually find out what’s happening. At issue is that if any organization even talks about abortion, it’s funding is cut. Even inside the states, on our own government information web sites, almost all mention of condoms and such have been removed. The problem is that the issues of contraception and abortion has been conflated by those with religious viewpoints, turning it into public policy. And that is simply inexcusable. It’s one thing to personally believe that Abstinence is the answer. It’s quite another to force it down the throats of the rest of us.

  8. Steven says:

    Of course, by that logic, liberals shouldn’t try to force condom distribution down the throats of the rest of us, or federal funding for abortions abroad, or whatever issue one wishes to choose.

    Ultimately, we all have some source for the morality to which we subscribe. How is a religiously based morality (and hence policy goals) any different in terms of political force than a non-religiously derived morality?

  9. John says:

    Well, by definition, religious based morality is based on FAITH. There is absolutely no way to argue with FAITH. It is what it is. I can argue with anything else. I’m not saying faith is wrong, just that it is impossible – by definition – to argue with it. So when someone tells me the policy is X because they believe it is god’s will, then I have absolutely no recourse. I’m sorry but just because you say the “liberal’s forcing condoms down our throats” is the same as “Christians forcing abstinence down our throats” doesn’t make it so. I guess, by your standards, that we should all take the Christian Scientist’s path and just give up on doctors all together. There is a huge difference between something that actually attempts to use science and rationality as its basis for policy rather than just a faith based religion. The former can be argued with, measured and quantified (to whatever degree we can). The later is simply a matter of faith and cannot be. Personally, I can’t imagine anyone who would think that’s a good way to make policy, and by framing the debate by conflating the two positions as equivalent seems really dangerous to me.

  10. James Joyner says:

    John,

    But they are equivalent. I great that “it’s God’s will” is rather hard to debate as a matter of logic. But that doesn’t make it any more illegitimate as a policy preference. I oppose abortion for non-theological reasons. I’m not sure why that’s any more legitimate than opposing it for theological reasons.

  11. James Joyner says:

    John,

    But they are equivalent. I great that “it’s God’s will” is rather hard to debate as a matter of logic. But that doesn’t make it any more illegitimate as a policy preference. I oppose abortion for non-theological reasons. I’m not sure why that’s any more legitimate than opposing it for theological reasons.

  12. John says:

    Now we’re getting to the nub of the “creeping irrationality” issue. It’s not a matter of “legitimatcy”. It’s a matter of testability, quantification and the ability to argue against it. I treat all ideas and beliefs as “legitimate”. Even the ones I disagree with. However, as far as policy is concerned, it’s not a matter of “legitimacy”, it’s a matter of effectiveness – defined by the common goals we as a society want to achieve.

  13. James Joyner says:

    Public policy isn’t social science. The people want what they want for a wide variety of reasons, damned few of them quantifiable or falsifiable.

  14. John says:

    This is like gathering requirements for a new product. There’s a difference between what one wants and what will satisfy the want. We all want to have lower teen pregnancy. The addition of faith (just an example, btw) means that they want the solution to conform to certain principles as well. We can solve the “want” any number of ways. But when you go beyond the “want” and start stipulating the “how”… Well, it doesn’t even work when there is no faith involved. It’s usually called micro-managing in the secular world. The name for it when religion is involved is… well, I won’t say that on such a nice blog as yours. 🙂

  15. Oh, for heaven’s sake. This is just silly.

  16. John says:

    So’s religion in politics.

  17. Politics depends upon some collective morality. Much morality is informed by religious faith. Therefore, religion will always inform political thought, at least to some degree.

    But I find that the radical secularists are just as irrational as the radical religious types. There are, for example, plenty of studies that show traditional sex education (that is, information only on the mechanics of sex, and on methods of contraception) to be abysmal failures when it comes to preventing teenage girls from conceiving. Why? Well, because part of the solution *has* to be imparting enough self-esteem/tactical information to girls so that they can resist sexual advances from older boys until they are emotionally ready for intercourse.

    Therefore, a program that only lists contraceptive choices is bound to fail. Girls who don’t feel good enough about themselves to resist advances they aren’t ready for won’t have the self-esteem to insist on contraception.

    But . . . “oh, no. No condoms being distributed. Program bad. Christians are out to get us.” My, my: *that’s* open-minded.

  18. Alexandre says:

    I hate to start a discussion and keep silence when the argument begins, but work is driving me crazy… Anyway, I read all you wrote here, James, and although I agree with some of your objections, I do believe there is a fundamental difference between our views of what a majority can do in our actual political structure.
    The State as we know in modern times is supposed to be ruled by the majority, but also to respect the fundamental rights of the minority. Both conditions are required to a democratic State, at least theoretically (in the real, messy world of everyday lives, things are a little more complicated, I know that).
    So, when you say the political view of the majority, in a representative government, should be expressed in public policy, I would agree with you if we were talking about privatized x public health care, for instance. I can not agree with you if it is denying basic rights on a specific group.
    When religion is placed on the center of the political arena, and their tenets are literally translated into law, with no regard to those that do not agree with it, we are departing from the kind of State we have developed in the last centuries to a different animal. That is the drift I referred to in my post.
    I realize that in the real, messy world, things are much more complicated and blurry. But I worry when the idea of imposing majority’s religious views are considered normal and acceptable behavior. It is not acceptable unless we are willing to depart from the kind of political system the western world has developed in the last centuries.

  19. James Joyner says:

    Alexandre,

    I agree with you if we’re talking about, for example, prayer in the schools. Or taxpayer funding for 10 Commandments monuments (which isn’t the case in Alabama, incidentally–it was paid for privately). But if we’re talking about more basic cultural views that happen to be informed by religion, then I’m not sure why they’re different from any other ideology.