This is Part III of a three part series. (Go read Part II if you've not seen it yet!)
Politics/LawAmerica is in the middle of a severely dysfunctional period of political and social change.
Over the last hundred years, technology has rocketed us from the horse and buggy days to jet aircraft and rockets to the moon. From simple telephone tech to cell phones and computers in our pockets.
A hundred years ago, information was limited to those who could read, which for the population of the US as a whole was about 90%. In 1979, that rate was 0.6%. The ability of people to distribute information was limited. For a regional audience, newspapers were the norm, and was limited to what the editors would print. A wider audience could be reached in book publication, but that was limited to what the major publishing house editors thought would sell.
Accordingly, the public picture of what was normal was limited to what people could read, and that was tightly controlled, even with what was then a fairly free press. The abnormal was easily ignored and any contradicting speech or dissension was often swept under the rug.
Until women got angry, and began working to change things. By 1920, the 19th amendment allowed women the right to vote after a long and contentious public debate, including protests outside the White House, often resulting in arrests.
Today, information is everywhere. The Internet allows instant connection to just about any repository of information that has an online presence. Many traditional repositories of information, including the Library of Congress, are rapidly digitizing their collections.
The Internet has changed communication as well. In the early 20th century, overseas telephone calls were expensive and rare, requiring coordination by letter so both parties were available at a coordinated time. While this got easier with time, even as late as the 1960's, calling overseas often required advance reservations of a time slot, and were still not cheap.
By the 1970-'s, with modern satellite communications systems well under construction, such calls became both cheap and easy compared to just a decade earlier.
The Internet changed all that. Today, there are multiple methods for connecting to people, even across the globe. Email, texting, land line calls and even cell phones can be used to connect to people instantaneously. While the online bulletin boards of the early 90's allowed communications by text, today, with such Internet giants as Facebook and Google, communication with huge numbers of people across wide swaths of the globe are as easy as sending an email, posting to a Facebook page or setting up a web site. Skype and FaceTime allow instant face to face communication across the globe.
Any of this can be done on a cell phone.
This communication explosion has greatly changed the character of our political discourse. While Americans slowly and quietly moved away from devout religious observance during the course of the late 20th century, the 21st, with the advent of instant internet communication, has resulted in an explosion of secular movements and groups. The demographic of "None" as related to religious affiliation is the fastest growing category world-wide, not merely in the US.
Many in the movement attribute this to the Internet and the ability of people of a secular point of view to see - for the first time - that they are not alone and are part of a growing and dynamic community.
The growth of secularism, from the 60's on, resulted in a backlash of religiosity, starting with the Moral Majority, and Ronald Reagan's Presidency. This backlash has grown in political influence, spurred on by the Republican Party allying itself with the religious right in a bid for increased political influence. Successfully, I might add.
The Religious Right (RR) has gained influence on a regional and local basis through intense local organizing and political activism. The resulting political power thus gained has allowed the Republicans control of a substantial majority of State Houses, allowing the RR to bend the political discourse far to the right of center.
A movement known as Dominionism (of which I've written here extensively) has orchestrated much of the successful passage of laws undermining education and science, causing much social controversy and political division, especially in the area of abortion and women's reproductive health. In many States, there is a virtual dearth of any legal means of abortion, and now the fight is being directed towards a subject everybody thought was won decades ago - contraceptives.
So, today, after decades of successful advancement of women's rights, including the right to vote, the right to divorce, including no fault provisions, the right to contraceptives and abortion, and the right own property (largely won in the 19th century), women's groups are now having to gear up and spend vast amounts of money fighting for the continued existence of rights once thought secure.
Most of this is due to religion. Patriarchy, biblical proscriptions against women (whether real or not) and a Dominionist movement intent on converting the US from a democracy to a theocracy have all brought the American political scene to a complete and utter standstill.
RR's efforts haven't stopped there. There is a litany of things they are working on.
abstinence-only education - Instead of medically accurate information and thoughtful conversation about intimacy and childbearing, teens get promise rings and slut shame.
Opposing protections and rights for children. Thanks to the influence of biblical Christianity, the U.S. stands alone with Somalia in failing to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Undermining science - The scientific method has also become an existential threat to Bible belief. We know now that the Genesis creation story is myth, neurotransmitters rather than demons cause mental illness, mandrake roots and dove blood don’t improve female fertility or cure skin diseases, and the cognitive structures of the human mind predispose us to certain kinds of religious belief.
Promoting war - George Bush didn’t need to seek input from his earthly father about the invasion, because he asked his Heavenly Father. Besides, Jesus is coming soon and war in the Middle East is predicted in the Bible. That makes it not only inevitable, but—in a manner of speaking—desirable.
Abuse of LGBT persons and refusal of equal rights - They've fought equal rights for these folks for decades, and still are, and it would be bad enough if we were simply talking about history. But homophobic American Christians, thwarted at home, have turned to inciting oppression in Uganda and Nigeria where their hatred still finds fertile ground.
Destroying Earth’s web of life and endangering future generations - Climate change denial and refusal of reasonable methods of keeping our air and water clean and unpolluted is based on biblical scripture giving man "Dominion" (there that word is again) over the earth and all its animals, as well as the believed inevitability of the Second Coming, where God will simply create a new and better Earth guarantees that the RR will refuse to assist in doing anything to protect the environment or protect future generations from the consequences of our irresponsibility today. Add Republicans' devotion to Corporate welfare, and the die is cast.(Thanks to Valerie Tarico at Salon.com for her ideas and some of her language.)
I guess the greatest harm in general that religion (right wing fundamentalism in particular) does to this country is through its insistence that we support Israel. The most vile technique they use is to accuse detractors of being anti-Semitic. Even people who have reasoned and logical arguments against that support are branded with that epithet.
I am not, in principle, opposed to Israel. I am not even against some form of support for it.
But our foreign policy regarding Israel is held hostage by the RR for religious reasons (because of the Second Coming) and tolerates no deviation from complete and total support. Regardless of whether American interests are harmed or even devastated by that support, they insist that we continue to support Israel, blindly and without digression.
This has resulted in anger towards the US and much hatred of us by the Muslim world, and has resulted directly in the attacks on the World Trade Center (both of them), and a continued campaign of terrorist activity against American interests.
Our responses to that have been goaded by the RR to the point that our constitutional rights are now under attack at home and US Intelligence has eroded America's reputation for even handedness and high standards of morality to the point of almost nonexistence. The RR's toleration and indeed, insistence on, classifying water boarding and "advanced interrogation techniques" as acceptable has completely destroyed the ability of this country to hold other countries accountable for similar actions against our own citizens, resulting in the inability of the government to protect American Citizens overseas.
Even if the Progressive movement (such as it is) managed to gain political ascendancy in the next election by some miracle, it would take decades for us to regain our good reputation for being a humane and law abiding nation. As it is, forget it.
Obviously, this examination of the negative affects of having the population of this country believe in superstitious Bronze Age beliefs is incomplete. If I tried to classify it all, I'd have to write a series of books. One wouldn't be enough.
But the short story is a beginning. If the only negative affects of religious belief were what I have touched upon here, it would be bad enough to justify organizing the secularists of this country to incite political influence and action to combat it.
But it is far, far worse than this. The struggle to overcome religiosity and its negative affects on this country will continue into the future, and may never be fully complete. Christianity, Judaism and Islam have been here, collectively, for over three thousand or more years. That kind of influence doesn't go away overnight; we've been fighting it since the beginning of the Renaissance in the 12th century.
Let's not allow it to make a comeback.
Robert W. Ahrens
The Cybernetic Atheist