According to Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, the initials GOP now stand for “God’s Own Party.” Quoted on the Huffington Post, Wilentz is just one of many who see the Republican Party changing from its traditional fiscally conservative base to a theocratic group. The website goes so far as to claim that ‘the GOP now is best understood as the American Faith Party (AFP) and its members as conservative Judeo-Christian-Mormon Republicans.’
And that, my friends, is an absolute shame. The First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees all Americans religious liberty, states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Anti-Defamation league claims this as central to our continued existence as one of the most religious countries in the world: ‘By maintaining the wall separating church and state, we can guarantee the continued vitality of religion in American life.’ How did we go from this to the requirement that Laurens County, South Carolina Republicans take a pledge abstaining from premarital sex and porn, in addition to ‘standard fare like opposition to abortion and upholding gun rights?’
Did Jesus uphold gun rights? In Matthew 19:18-21, he states that good people should avoid murder, stealing, and lying, that they should honor parents, and that, to be perfect, we should sell our possessions and give to the poor. I don’t see the ‘standard fare’ in that list. In fact, it’s all too easy to find proof in the Bible that Jesus despised the religious/political leaders of his time, going so far as to denounce them for hypocrisy; I find it hard to believe that the religious/political leaders of our time, who claim to read the Bible obsessively, don’t see the correlation between their own public pronouncements and the views of the Pharisees. However, I digress. The Bible, while important to the GOP, is not a political document. And that is a good thing.
In the original Bill of Rights, the word ‘church’ is not used. The wording avoids mention of any particular religion. This is to guarantee that every American has the right to express his or her faith in his or her own way. Today, we remember that the Massachusetts Bay Colony was settled by those seeking freedom of religion from the English crown; we forget that Pennsylvania was settled by those seeking religious freedom from the Puritans. Back in 1789, the Founding Fathers saw the need to protect not only Puritans, but also Quakers, Lutherans, Catholics, and Jews (remember Hayim Solomon, the financier of the American Revolution?),
The Founding Fathers were NOT what the GOP would consider Christian: ‘The Declaration was a radical departure from the idea that the power to rule over other people comes from god. It was a letter from the Colonies to the English King, stating their intentions to separate themselves. The Declaration is not a governing document. It mentions “Nature’s God” and “Divine Providence”…. that’s the language of Deism, not Christianity.’ They were influenced heavily by the writings of Voltaire and other Enlightenment philosophers, who considered logic, not faith, the basis for thought. Any attempt to construe Franklin or Jefferson, among other intellectuals of the time, as sharing beliefs with today’s Religious Right is simply revisionist history. While there were religious laws on the books, the Constitution was drafted specifically to delineate rights granted to the states and those granted to the federal government — and religious conformity was not one of them. The Bill of Rights specifically protects heterodoxy rather than orthodoxy — precisely because the Founding Fathers valued variation (as proof of the triumph of the mind) over the dictates of government established by divine right.
When today’s Republican Party stands under the umbrella of faith, it does so in opposition to the central tenets of American democracy. It does, however, share much with other ‘faith countries’ such as Iran and Afghanistan. Sharia law is defined by the Free Online Dictionary as ‘the code of law derived from the Koran and from the teachings and example of Mohammed.’ While I believe that Rick Santorum would find the comparison horrifying, I do remember the Los Angeles Times quoting him as saying: ‘I don’t believe in an American where separation of church and state is absolute.’ I’d like an explanation of how deriving law from the Bible and from the teachings and examples of Paul the Apostle (I believe I have covered Jesus’ views, above) is different from Sharia law. While the books are different, the central tenet is the same.
Perhaps the comparison of the GOP to Islamic extremism will seem excessive. Fine. How about the ultra-orthodox Jewish enclave of Me’a She’arim in Jerusalem, which this last year banned women from the streets during a Jewish holiday, in defiance of a court order? Fundamentalism is fundamentalism, no matter which book and whose teachings are used to justify the imposition of ideas on an entire society.
Between 1918 and 1933, The Weimar Republic in Germany contended with similar political maneuverings. Individuals failed to adequately speak out against its Far Right, which ‘blamed Germany’s fate partially on the left (Dolchstoss Legend), partially on the world’s Jews. It also rejected the Weimar Republic as formed by lackeys of the Allies.’ The result, as we all know, was six years of devastating world war, genocide, and lasting scars to the countries of Europe. While the comparison of today’s GOP to Hitler’s NSDAP is perhaps the most shocking of all, it bears noting that Hitler rose to power amidst a depressed economy and a nations of individuals looking for patriotic renewal. The GOP’s continuing movement from conservatism to theocracy signals that, once again, patriotism must be sharply delineated to avoid the drift into fanatic territory. It also signals the continuing need to speak out against fanatics of any stripe, against politicians who continue to forge careers by dividing Americans into ‘Christian’ and ‘other’ camps, and against any group that seeks to identify itself with God at the expense of the rest of the country.