The full statement reads: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (Lord Acton, British statesman). So the more power we give to the religious right in this country, the more times we give in, the more corrupt their leaders will become.
Before I start this essay I want to say up front that I highly respect those who believe in their religion and sincerely try to live by it. I am not talking about those people when I refer to the “evangelicals” or the “religious right.” I am talking about those who profess to believe in the Bible and Jesus, but who are trying to get power in the government and eradicate our separation of church and state to gain power and money for themselves. This is how a theocracy is formed. Religious people who follow the tenets of their religion are not power-hungry. Zealots and hypocrites are.
Originally I had planned to just pick a topic such as gay marriage or stem cell research, and explain why having a theocracy would be detrimental in regard to these subjects.
But I realized that opponents of stem cell research or gay marriage would simply poke holes in whatever arguments I made, because their beliefs differ from mine. They would say that their values, which they feel are the right values, would prohibit either from taking place and that’s why they think combining religion with government is a good thing.
So I took a step back and thought about it from a holistic standpoint. What about a theocracy makes it inherently detrimental to the country? The answer came to me: Power.
Any time one point of view gets all the power, bad things happen. This applies in other countries, and it applies here in the United States. And when these bad things happen, they would affect all of us.
I read an interesting article in the NY Times the other day about a famous experiment that was done in the early 1970’s at Stanford University.
A social psychologist, Philip G. Zimbardo, picked two sets of students and subjected them to a harrowing experiment. Half of the students were told they were in charge of the other half, who were their prisoners. The psychologist refused to interfere in any way and gave the “guards” absolute power over the “prisoners.” The treatment of the “prisoners” deteriorated to such a degree that Dr. Zimbardo was forced to stop the experiment after only five days, although it was supposed to run for two weeks. The “guards” were subjecting the prisoners to torture of various types, deprivation of food, sleep and water, as well as physical abuse.
Obviously, it doesn’t take any imagination to translate these findings to explain what happened at Abu Ghraib.
To take this analogy in a different direction, let’s think about what could happen if religious zealots controlled the government completely. How could too much power affect these leaders?
Right now, although there are those in the government who have been elected with the help of right-wing evangelical religious groups, these leaders are not only beholden to them but also to the other constituencies they represent. And most of those elected because of these evangelical groups are not religious zealots themselves; they actually are using those that are supporting them in order to accomplish other objectives.
So there is a balance of power and the religious right does not get its own way on all of the issues their supporters would like.
But if the leaders themselves are the zealots and truly try to fulfill what they see is the mandate of the religion they profess to believe in, things change. As it is, President Bush has already made as many efforts as possible to shift the balance of power squarely into the Executive Branch, undermining the strength of the other branches of government.
If this process were ever completed, and a president were elected that truly vowed to make all the dreams of the religious right come true, the country could become a very scary place.
I was actually involved in an evangelical church back in the 1970’s (a long complicated explanation that I won’t go into now!). I was attending church faithfully and then one day they were preaching about Anita Bryant’s campaign in Florida to prohibit gay teachers from teaching the children. They were praying for her “success.” That was the last service I went to and I haven’t looked back since.
Evangelicals like to say that they “hate the sin but love the sinner.” But when “hating the sin” means they are so ignorant that they think that gay teachers might be an immoral influence (or worse) to children, and want to incorporate job discrimination into the law, then they are indeed “hating the sinner.” This is not what our democracy is about. And if people who believe this way received all of the power in this country, discrimination against people for sexual orientation would soon be the law of the land in certain professions.
Evangelicals believe that they are all going to participate in the Rapture in the End Times, when they are taken up to Heaven when Jesus comes back. They also believe the Bible has given them “dominion” over the rest of the earth. As a result, until very recently, most evangelicals have been anti-environment and were able to reconcile their religious beliefs with those of the business-favorable Republicans who also are against the environment. If all of the government were controlled by this type of believer, you could say goodbye to any semblance of adherence to the Clean Air Act or the Endangered Species Act.
Of course, there is also the ever-present issue of the evangelicals’ battle against teaching evolution in the schools. No matter how much proof they are shown of the age of the earth, they continue to believe in the literal interpretation of Genesis. This is fine; unless they are in charge. As it is, they are in charge in some areas of the country and are starting to teach “Intelligent Design” in the classrooms. If they were in charge of the whole country, you could expect to see this rolled out nationwide. As it is, our kids are growing up learning less than in many other countries, and the United States is falling behind in science. If we start teaching our kids information with no scientific validity, we will only fall farther behind.
Unwanted pregnancies? Say hello again to back-alley abortions and women and girls dying because they try to end a pregnancy on their own; or girls who are forced into bearing unwanted children who will grow up poor and underprivileged. Unwanted pregnancies would increase because people would not be able to buy birth control at their local pharmacies anymore if it is the type of birth control that would offend the conscience of a religious zealot.
Stem cell research? Forget about it. No cure for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease in our lifetime.
Gay people would be marginalized and would have to start keeping their true identities hidden for fear of losing their jobs or even being committed against their will to psychiatric hospitals to undergo a “cure.” Children of gay couples might be taken from the only parents they ever knew “for their own good.” Other children would languish in foster care because there would be fewer couples available to adopt special needs kids, which gay couples are often willing to do.
This would just be the tip of the iceberg. You’d also have more religious wars to look forward to, as the evangelical right is fiercely anti-Islam. I have a friend who is extremely sincere in her beliefs, and I respect them. But she is inundated with propaganda from her church which is anti-Islam. She sends me e-mails all the time with scary pronouncements about the dangers of Islam. And she doesn’t see that her religious group believes just as strongly as those that follow Islam and has the same kinds of prejudice. She doesn’t see that Holy War is an oxymoron.
As someone who has studied the Bible and been a part of the evangelical movement in the past, I see a lot of hypocrisy, a lot of disconnects between what is said by the religious right, and what I see said in the Bible. But they are not seeing it.
Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” He did not say “Try to get leaders elected who will do what I say.”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He did not say, “Make my kingdom happen here on earth.”
Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” He did not say, “Try to get leaders elected who will give you tax cuts.”
Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” He did not say, “Let big businesses flourish at the expense of little people and help rich people get richer.”
Jesus said, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” He did not say, “Rich people should run the government.”
Jesus said, “Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword.” He did not say, “Start a preemptive war with an Islamic country for no good reason.”
Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He did not say, “Even though you want to have a loving family surrounding you, don’t let those gay people do the same thing. They should be miserable because they are sinners.”
Jesus said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” He did not say, “You have the right to sentence people to death, and to decide whether they are worthy of having the same rights you have."
Yet these are the kinds of people that the religious right are supporting, people who believe in all of the things that were NOT said by Jesus. If the United States became a theocracy, these people would band together and make life as we know it obsolete.
The scenarios I’ve described above would just be the beginning. As the power started to corrupt further, people would become afraid to speak what was on their mind if it didn’t match what the leaders believed. Freedom of speech would be curtailed. Those in power might start a secret police system to spy on people to find out if they are gay and kick them out of jobs. They might start arresting young girls for having abortions or the doctors who provided them. It could get even worse. Neighbors could be reporting on neighbors. Oh, I forgot, they already asked people to do that since 9/11…
I won’t even go into all the examples of how power has corrupted theocracies in the past. I just need to say “Spanish Inquisition,” “Crusades,” and “Henry the 8th” and you get the idea. Don’t let it happen here. Heed the warning.