With his usual surgical wit, Jon Stewart chastised the “Religious Right” saying, “You’ve confused a ‘War on Religion’ with ‘Not always getting everything you want.’” He is spot on, but their confusion is not accidental. The far right in the United States has come to realize that the only way they can justify their anger at being left behind by a culture that has moved into the twenty-first century is to hide their medieval priorities in religious rhetoric. They know that “War on Stupidity” does not sell as well as “War on Religion,” but it would nevertheless be more apt.
To be clear, thanks to the First Amendment and our pluralistic heritage, you can believe anything you want about the supernatural, your god(s), other people’s god(s), the afterlife, and anything else that falls into the category of religious belief. Claims about metaphysics are the provenance of religion, and neither the government nor your neighbor is going to force you to stop receiving the body of Christ in the Eucharist and start burning incense at a shrine to Ganesh. No one is challenging your right to believe whatever you will about the Divine.
On the other hand, if you use your religion as an excuse to demand that we teach Babylonian myths instead of actual peer-reviewed research in our science classes – yes, the general public is going to stop you. This is not because we dislike your religion. In fact, many of us come from religions that also have those same Babylonian creation myths. We are fighting back because we do not want you to make our children stupid. We are not challenging your religion, we are challenging your right to use the schools to teach ignorance and illiteracy – we need an educated electorate and a literate, productive populace to survive as a nation.
Likewise if you want to tell women they do not have the right to choose if they get pregnant, the vast majority of this country (including adherents of religions that teach contraception as sinful) will push back against your claim to authority over women’s bodies. Like you, many of us come from traditions that were founded when people believed that women were property. Thankfully, thousands of years have gone by since then, and we as a society no longer believe the heinous fallacy that the body a person is born in makes them belong to someone else. In stopping you from pushing your patriarchal agenda, we are not going to battle against your faith, we are standing fast against your disgusting attempt to subdue, oppress, and control half of the population of this country.
Unfortunately, “religion” is not just used as a weapon to challenge the power of the female majority in the United States. It is also used as an excuse for oppressing minority groups, most obviously in the right wing’s desire to withhold basic civil rights from lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender Americans. As those of you on the far right have already realized, the ship has sailed and your stereotyped, provincial understanding of sexual orientation is no longer socially acceptable in this country. If you are an anti-LGBT bigot, you increasingly have to keep your beliefs closeted or face the social stigma of being viewed as a Neanderthal (with apologies to the actual Neanderthals). This is not the result of a struggle to overcome the influence of your religious beliefs. This is America – the cradle of the Civil Rights movement – and we are not going to let you use any excuse to make our brothers and sisters second-class citizens.
Trying to paint yourself as the victims of a “War on Religion” may give you the sound bites and comforting rhetoric you need to keep from facing the reality of how socially unacceptable your worldview has become, but no amount of colorful phrasing changes the truth. You cannot admit this to the press, your parishioners, or even yourself, but the real source of your anger and wounded pride is the realization that your anachronistic worldview makes you irrelevant in the modern world. The American people are not at war with your faith. Most of us come from the same faith traditions you do. We are at war with ignorance, oppression, and bigotry – and until you let these despicable “values” go you will always find yourself at odds with a time and place that values knowledge, freedom, and inclusion.