George W. Bush was more the Religious Right’s man than even creationist Ronald Reagan and to date has done more to harm the Wall of Separation put in place by our Founding Fathers than any other president in American history. His attitude toward the Constitution itself was that it was only a set of guidelines he could set aside at will, and he acted on these impulses often and, it would seem, with malice aforethought. Whether he was using the Religious Right or the Religious Right used him or they used each other doesn’t matter: the damage that was done was done and by the two sides acting in concert.
But to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If many Americans rose up in a religious frenzy there were those had a very different reaction to the events of 9/11 -a more vocal atheism. It wasn’t just extremist Islam but all religion that was to blame.
As John Blake writes on CNN’s Belief Blog, “Before 9/11, many atheists kept a low profile. Something changed, though, after 9/11. They got loud.”
Atheists were driven to become more vocal because of the 9/11 attacks and America’s reaction, says David Silverman, president of American Atheists. He says many atheists were disgusted when President George W. Bush and leaders in the religious right reacted to the attack by invoking “God is on our side” rhetoric while launching a “war on terror.”
But atheists weren’t in power – fundamentalist Christians were – and they intended to remake the country in their image.
2002 U.S. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and his allies attempted to get Congress to scrap the restriction on politicking by houses of worship and other ministries. Says AU (February 2011 Church & State):
“The move drew support from TV preachers and a few ultra-conservative religious groups, but most religious denominations did not support it. After several forays in the House, Jones finally gave up the battle and so far has not introduced the bill in the current Congress.”
In 2002, Christian Coalition puts out 24 million voter guides. Religious Right-backed candidates win 18 new House seats and 11 Senate and Gubernatorial elections. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), the only governor to attend Rick Perry’s 2011 fundamentalist prayer fast in Houston, Texas, told a Christian Coalition gathering in October 2002 that “As a candidate, I could see my polling numbers shoot up as those voter guides went out. I appreciate it and they work.”
A measure of the effort’s success can be seen in the fact that in 2003, 38 out of 52 Republicans in the U.S. Senate received 100% scorecards from the Family Research Council (FRC).
Even the U.S. Army acted like it was fighting a good old fashioned religious crusade in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most people would have assumed the general was in the U.S. Army, but in 2003 Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin said, “We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God have been raised for such a time as this.”
The true nature of the Religious Right was exposed through this and by other remarks, such as those made by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson after 9/11, blaming religious diversity of all things for the terrorist attack, as well as tolerance and diversity.
“I really believe that the Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians, … the ACLU, People For the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this [terrorist attack] happen.“
This attitude goes hand in hand with the attitude that who we were fighting in Iraq was not a mortal enemy but Satan himself. This was an assertion Boykin, as deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, made in June 2003. In WW II, General Patton was nearly cashiered for less inflammatory comments, but nobody batted an eye where Boykin was concerned.
It would be bad enough if just an isolated incident but it seems to have been one readily embraced by the Bush administration itself, at least for propaganda purposes, and a dramatic departure from sanity for any foreign policy and something completely unheard of on these shores. Even the so-called “Crusade in Europe” was understood to be against a man – Hitler – not demonic powers in a return to first century Christian apocalypticism.
Another worrisome comment made by Boykin in June actually went against something Bush himself had said back in 1999, that he thought God believed him to be president but that “Elections are determined by human beings.” The argument Boykin advanced was that Bush wasn’t president by election: “He’s in the White House because God put him there.”
Of course, we’ve seen far worse ten years on, with candidates not saying simply that they believed God waned them to be president but that God told them to run for president, like some sort of modern-day messiah. But at the time this was scary enough and it was the beginning of a process by which disapproval of Bush’s actions or words could be seen as a rebellion against god and therefore as anti-Christian. Bush was God’s chosen and if you disagreed with Bush you put yourself outside of God, making you an enemy of America, because America was also chosen as God’s vehicle. In other words, real Americans were God-fearing Christians. The rest of us had been reduced to Canaanites.
This was not at all the intent of the Founding Fathers, and to see it put to such uses was disheartening to say the least.
Atheists weren’t the only ones to react to the move right. Women did as well. One study from 2003 analyzing data from the 2000 election campaign showed:
“Women are demonstrably more liberal than men, especially on social welfare issues…[and] women are much more likely than men to support full equality for gay people. In contrast, there is little difference between men and women on the issue of abortion rights.” The authors observe that “This party identification gap is widening as men continue to move to the Republican Party.” The study also notes that women clergy are “affiliate even more strongly with the Democratic Party”
But misogynistic attitudes took hold among Republicans in lockstep with fundamentalism, giving birth to a 21st century war on women that seems to grow hotter and more merciless by the year.
In 2003 the New York Times reported another Bush assault on the ‘wall’ of separation of church and State is a shift in policy that, for the first time allows the federal government to give money to houses of worship to build buildings. Contrast this willingness to use federal dollars to build buildings for churches with the current attitude towards anyone’s money being used to build, say, mosques. The outcry if federal dollars were involved is difficult to imagine.
And that wasn’t the only assault of the year: As TheocracyWatch.org reports: “On September 22, 2003, the White House announced new rules making $28 billion available to religious charities that proselytize and discriminate in hiring.”
In that same month the Guardian says: “the government made more than $60 billion available for religious charitable groups.”
As the year came to a close, the second head of the OFBCI, Jim Towey, in a session of “Ask the Whitehouse” dated November 26, 2003, stated in regard to a question about pagan faith-based organizations:
“I haven’t run into a pagan faith-based group yet, much less a pagan group that cares for the poor! Once you make it clear to any applicant that public money must go to public purposes and can’t be used to promote ideology, the fringe groups lose interest. Helping the poor is tough work and only those with loving hearts seem drawn to it.”
The war on religious diversity was well and truly underway, not just through support of Christian fundamentalist causes, but against other religions, on the way to making Christianity the official religion of the United States in violation of the First Amendment.
READ ALL THE ARTICLES IN THE SERIES:
The Antecedents of American Fundamentalism 1606-1925
The Rising Tide of American Fundamentalism in the 1940s and 50s
The Cresting Tide of American Fundamentalism in the 1960s
American Fundamentalism in the 70s – The Rise of the Moral Majority
The Rise of American Fundamentalism – The Year 1980
The Rise of American Fundamentalism – the Reagan Decade
The Rise of American Fundamentalism 1990-1993
The Rise of American Fundamentalism 1994-1997
The Rise of American Fundamentalism 1998-2001