Three Ways to Beat Religious Political Extremists

Skipp Porteous

Many mistakenly think that if we could just catch Pat Robertson in bed with a cohost of the “700 Club”—either Ben or Terri—the religious right would self-destruct. Some think the Christian Coalition would sink if the Internal Revenue Service could nail it on tax violations or illegal political activity. However, the radical religious right is a movement, not an organization. It’s a movement that’s been a long time in the making, that learns from its mistakes, and that keeps coming back. If one group within the movement fails, another rises to fill the gap.

There are three things we can do to counter the radical religious right. They include short-term and long-term initiatives and offer short-term and long-term results. The three strategies are: expose, oppose, and superimpose. We must continue to do what we have been doing, and that is to expose the agenda, the methods, and the effects of the actions of the religious right. This involves researching, working with the media, speaking out at public meetings, writing letters to editors, calling radio talk-shows, publishing newsletters, and networking with other groups.

We oppose the radical religious right by organizing coalitions, registering and educating voters, working with the media, initiating legal action when appropriate, and organizing social action committees in churches, temples, mosques, and cultural groups.

Our immediate objective is to expose and oppose religious political extremists. But we must initiate a movement to effect permanent change. We need to superimpose greater ideals than those offered by the radical religious right. To superimpose means to lay a grid over an existing pat-tern—to lay down our system of ethics and encourage people to live by them.

 

Our unwillingness to take a moral stand is based on several objections:

  • We don’t want to appear intolerant. To take a moral stand would imitate our adversaries who like to tell us what’s right and what’s wrong.
  • We don’t want to sound pious. Who are we to tell other people how to conduct their lives?
  • We want to leave God or religion out of our activism. After all, we believe in the separation between church and state. • And, if we took a moral stand, upon whose beliefs would we base our moral stand?

In my opinion, we’ve got to take the higher ground. We’ve allowed the radical religious right to gain the upper hand by default. If we correctly identify the problems facing us as a nation and are willing to lead, we will win this battle against religious political extremists.

Why has the book The Celestine Prophecy been on the New York Times best-seller list for over two years? As a novel, it’s second-rate at best. The Celestine Prophecy purports to announce the coming of a new, dazzling way of life for humanity on Earth, giving millions something to believe in today, and hope for tomorrow.

The enthusiastic response to The Celestine Prophecy underscores the obvious fact that people really want a better world. The fictional book indicates that a better life on Earth will come about through a mystical process. In reality, positive change has never come about and never will come about, without good people making it happen. In order to effect change, we must put action behind what we believe.

Abortion, for instance, is a symptom of a larger problem. The causes behind our high abortion rate are deep-rooted. No woman plans a pregnancy so she can get an abortion. But, as unpleasant as abortion may be to some, we don’t need a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. We need to intensify sexuality education, support strong families, reinforce interpersonal relationships, improve communication skills, build self-esteem, and teach personal responsibility.

While perhaps refusing to admit it, many of us even agree with some of the moral positions of the religious right. I believe our values are just as good, and, in fact, better, than those of the religious political extremists.

If the 94% of the Americans who say they believe in God truly practiced a monotheistic code of ethics—and human-ists practiced humanism’s code of ethics—we could pull the rug out from under the radical religious right.

If over the next few years, the crime rate dropped dramatically, and our streets became safe to walk at night; if the AIDS epidemic disappeared; if abortion was the exception rather than the rule—what ammunition would the radical right have; how would it mount a campaign?

If our schools were free from violence, a safe haven for our children and were reporting higher Scholastic Achievement Test scores for their students, how could the religious right make an issue over evolution or sex education?

Oh sure, fundamentalists, with their intolerant viewpoints and narrow agenda, will always be with us. But, they are a minority—they always have been and they always will be. The only reason they are being heard so loudly now is that they are pointing out some real areas of concern.

If we are to advance a system of ethics as a way to fight the religious right—and I think this the way to go—we cannot insist that people conform to our standards, or claim that their rejection of our ethics will land them in hell. We must lead the way through teaching, and by example.

Skipp Porteous

Skipp Porteous is Director of the Institute for First Amendment Studies in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.


Many mistakenly think that if we could just catch Pat Robertson in bed with a cohost of the “700 Club”—either Ben or Terri—the religious right would self-destruct. Some think the Christian Coalition would sink if the Internal Revenue Service could nail it on tax violations or illegal political activity. However, the radical religious right is …

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