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Religious Fascism

(fascism: 2. a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control*)

October 22, 2008. For thirty years I taught philosophy classes at Sacramento City College (SCC), a community college in a large metropolitan area. My students might not have been representative of California's population, but one thing remained constant over the decades: immigrants from dozens of countries enrolled in my classes and they seemed to reflect the immigration patterns in the state.

When I arrived at SCC in 1977, I had several students from Iran, Jordan, Uganda and other African countries. After the U.S. tried to repair the damage we'd done to Vietnam, my classes were filled with refugees from southeast Asia. I felt privileged to be able to meet and teach every group of immigrants who came my way, looking for a chance to educate themselves and make something of their lives. When I retired in 2007, I hadn't had a student from Iran or Africa for about twenty years. None of my students from the Middle East returned to class after 9/11. My students from southeast Asian cultures were now born in the U.S.

During the last few years of my career, a number of my "foreign" students came from the former Soviet Union, mostly from the Ukraine. Many of them were very bright and determined to get an education. They were some of my best students. One peculiar trait that seemed to be shared by all of them was Christian fundamentalism. They were particularly vocal about being anti-evolution, anti-abortion, and anti-homosexual. They were also vocal about loving the Truth, but it was apparent that they didn't care about the truth in the same way that I did. If I thought that because they said that they believed the Truth would always win out, I would be able to present evidence and argue with them on a rational basis, I would be wrong. What they meant was that they believed the Bible contains Absolute Truth and was the Word of God, so it would win out. These students had little interest in evidence or logic (but they would give it to you, if they thought their grade depended on it).

Their understanding of the Bible is that God created everything in six days, so evolution didn't happen. Furthermore, belief in evolution is the cause of the evils of materialism that are corrupting our morals. Allowing abortion and homosexuality are two such evils; they are abominations in the eyes of their Lord and must not be allowed.

Like many other Christian fundamentalists in the U.S., the Ukrainians want to see their beliefs and values put into law. They are not satisfied to believe their fairy tale about the six-day creation or to refrain from having abortions or engage exclusively in other-sex partnerships. They want to require everyone to do so.

I wonder if the dominance of the religious fascists in this country is not one of the main attractions to many people thinking about immigrating here. Sure, there is the belief that we are the land of wealth and promise for a life of luxury, but the power that the religious fasciststhose who want a "Christian" nation made in the image of their belief system to be foisted on all of usmay also be a lure that attracts immigrants with a similar hope.

Being intelligent, the Ukrainian students took a page from the Biblical fundamentalists who tried to get evolution out of public schools and replace it with Biblical fantasies: they ran for office. They haven't yet tried to control school boards, as far as I know, but at one of SCC's sister colleges, American River College (ARC), a group of fundamentalists (mostly Slavic immigrants) got themselves elected to positions on the student council. This would be a relatively easy task, since out of about 37,000 students only several hundred will ever vote in a student election. (About 10% of these students are both enrolled in English as a Second Language classes and list a Slavic tongue as their first language.*)

Since community colleges don't write their science curricula to satisfy the students' religious beliefs, and since abortions aren't performed on campus, and since community colleges don't discriminate against homosexuals, you might wonder what good it would do the religious fascists to get elected to the student council of a community college. Well, it just so happens that California has an initiative (Proposition 8) on next month's ballot that will make same-sex marriage unconstitutional. The student council was able to get a majority to vote to support Proposition 8. The action has caused an uproar on campus and has led to a recall effort to remove nine of the student council members, including three Mormons who voted with the Slavic Christians.

The religious fascists at ARC have their own club: the Christian Civilization Club. Their faculty advisor (one is required to have a campus club) resigned when the club sponsored Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.

What's happening at ARC is happening across the state of California and in several other states. John McCain says he supports an initiative in his state of Arizona that will ban same-sex marriages. His running mate, Sarah Palin, says she supports an amendment to the federal constitution that will ban same-sex marriages in all the states and territories. (If they really believe that marriage is sacred, they ought to support taking it out of the hands of civil authority altogether and make marriage a purely religious act, like baptism. If they really believe that we must keep to the tradition of marriage being between a man and a woman, then they ought to support making divorce illegal. For 1500 years, the Christian tradition forbade divorce. To be consistent, shouldn't the religious fascists be advocating a return to the no-divorce tradition?)

The supporters of Proposition 8 are running ads featuring a married couple from another state who were appalled that their second-grader came home from school and reported that his teacher read them a story about two princes getting married. The parents sued the school district, even though the teacher was not promoting a school district policy. The parents consider reading such a story to their child as "indoctrination" in morals they oppose. I'm sure many parents feel the same way about evolution or the civil rights movement. So what? If you don't want your child subjected to values different than your own peculiar religious fantasies, then don't send the kid to public school.

We had a similar kind of nonsensical battle in California many years ago when there was a ballot proposal that would have banned homosexuals from teaching in public schools. State senator John Briggs argued that if we didn't pass a law forbidding homosexuals from teaching in public schools, it would be the end of civilization as we know it. Obviously, he was wrong. Homosexuals continue to teach in our public schools and the bigoted civilization Briggs wanted to be eternal has not ended yet.

Tradition is irrelevant to whether we should ban same-sex marriage. Religious beliefs are irrelevant to whether we should ban same-sex marriage. The issue ought to be about freedom, happiness, and potential for harm. As to the latter, we can't let a group of religious fascists dictate what is and what isn't harmful. They think homosexuality is immoral. Fine, but keep your belief to yourself. Don't think you have the right to impose it on the rest of us. I call you fascists because you aren't satisfied with being left alone to not have an abortion or not have to marry a homosexual. You want to dictate that all members of society have to follow your code. Why shouldn't gays be as free to marry as other-sex couples? If this is what they want in their pursuit of happiness, who are we to deny it to them? They harm nobody by their actions, except for hurting the feelings of religious bigots.

You Republicans who say you want government to stay out of our business, why aren't you leading the fight to support the right of same-sex couples to express their love for each other? Why are you supporting government intrusion into our lives? If government has the power to forbid gays from marrying, it has the power to forbid anyone it wants from marrying. Government should stick to what it's good at. Legislating morals is not one of the things government is good at.

And you, Senator Obama, who say you are for change, change, change, why aren't you supporting the freedom to choose who to marry? Are you and Biden really opposed to the freedom to choose one's spouse, or are you just afraid of the political fallout?

For the record:

Barack Obama "opposes same-sex marriage, but also opposes a constitutional ban. Says he would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment. As stated on the Obama campaign Web site, he supports full civil unions that 'give same-sex couples equal legal rights and privileges as married couples, including the right to assist their loved ones in times of emergency as well as equal health insurance, employment benefits, and property and adoption rights.' "

Joe Biden "opposes same-sex marriage. Voted against a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. Supports civil unions. Says he believes legal recognition should not be denied to same-sex couples. Advocates re-examining federal laws, including the tax code, to ensure national laws are not unfair to same-sex couples and that committed adults who are adopting are not discriminated against because of sexual orientation. Supports letting states determine how to recognize civil unions and define marriage. Also supports ending the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. Supports adding sexual orientation to the definition of hate crimes."

Sarah Palin "supported an amendment to the Alaska state constitution that would have banned same-sex marriage, but, during her tenure as governor, vetoed a bill that would have denied health benefits to same-sex partners of public employees on grounds that it was unconstitutional."

John McCain, as noted above, would let the states decide such issues.

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