Wednesday, March 16, 2005

On the Road to Theocracy?

Two recent articles on religion and politics caught my attention and highlight the kookiness and cunning of some fundamentalists. The first is Bill Moyers' piece in The New York Review of Books on fundamentalists and the environment. In a nutshell, he shows how belief in the Rapture leads to a disregard for the environment. As Moyers writes, "why care about the earth when the droughts, floods, famine, and pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of the apocalypse foretold in the Bible?" But more than the policy implications, it's the actual belief in the Rapture that stopped me short. Moyers notes that it's difficult to tell how many true believers there are, but he cites some recent poll numbers to give a sense of how many people out there hold similarly crazy beliefs: 36% believe the Book of Revelation to be "true prophesy" and 25% believe the Bible predicted the 9/11 attacks. Here's the basic "plot of the Rapture" according to Moyers...

Once Israel has occupied the rest of its 'biblical lands,' legions of the Antichrist will attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. As the Jews who have not been converted are burned the Messiah will return for the Rapture. True believers will be transported to heaven where, seated at the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents writhe in the misery of plagues - boils, sores, locusts, and frogs - during the several years of tribulation that follow.
What does this have to do with politics? "One is foolish to think that their bizarre ideas do not matter," writes Moyers. "I have no idea what President Bush thinks of the fundamentalists' fantastical theology, but he would not be president without them."

Then I read an article in the Washington Post on Monday about the new strategy of the so-called "intelligent design" movement. The idea is not to immediately push for the removal of evolution from the schools (and to replace it with creationism), but to simply "teach the controversy," the controversy being that evolution has its critics. My own Senator, Rick Santorum, for instance, is quoted as saying, "My reading of the science is there's a legitimate debate" about the validity of evolution. (With all due respect, Rick Santorum's reading of the science?!?!) And Cindy Duckett, a Wichita mother who sends her children to a private Christian school, believes that "the more options, the better" and that students should have to consider "any other belief that a kid in class has." Any other belief? So flat-earth, alien invasion - it's all on the table? I wonder if all beliefs - including Darwinism - are welcome at Ms. Duckett's Christian school.

Again, how is this political? It's nothing but political, given that the intelligent design movement has very little to do with science. Science, after all, is based on hypotheses that scientists do their best to reject; the scientific method is based on searching for counter-evidence. What evidence could possibly exist to "disprove" the notion that an "intelligent creator" formed the world and its inhabitants? No, this movement is about fighting progress and enlightenment. As one of the intelligent design advocates admitted in the Post piece, "If you can cause enough doubt on evolution, liberalism will die." But with it, so will advances in science and medicine.

Add to all this Justice Scalia's recent claim that "government derives its authority from God" (as opposed to the people?) and it doesn't seem unreasonable to worry that we're inching toward some form of theocracy in the United States. But every step toward theocracy is a step away from freedom and progress. If our pluralist democracy is to remain healthy, political movements based on religion really must be resisted.


At 6:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My inaugural address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions!


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