Minding the Issues - Let's Get Government Out of Religion

When is a tempest-in-a-teapot not a tempest-in-a-teapot? When it reflects deeper issues. That is why I hope you will bear with me as I recount my enforced displacement on Election Day, last May 2nd.
It began with a phone call asking me to solicit signatures on Election Day in support of the drive to raise the minimum wage. Sure, I was all in favor of that, but May 2nd was in the middle of an extremely busy period. In the end, I agreed that spending two hours would not be too onerous, and I committed to soliciting for signatures at Grant School between 5:00 and 7:00.
For those not familiar with Grant School, here is a rough layout: The school lies between Elmwood and Victoria Aves. The main entryway is a driveway off Elmwood. At the end of the driveway the main entrance to the school lies on one side (to the south), and the school parking lot lies on the other side.
Election rules specify that no campaigning or soliciting is to be carried on within 100 feet of the entrance to the polling place. The requisite distance is customarily marked by an American flag - thus the rule "no campaigning inside the flags."
When I got to Grant School, I saw a flag on the sidewalk beside the driveway, and it seemed to be about 100 feet from the entrance, so I stood just outside that flag. This position was a little awkward - most people who parked in the lot passed some distance away as they entered the school - but I was able to approach enough of the voters to make my efforts worthwhile.
At 6:00, however, a lady wearing one or two official badges came out of the school and told me I was standing too close. She told me that I would have to stand by the entrance to the driveway, on Elmwood Ave., where another flag was placed. I looked at the other flag, and I could see that the distance between it and the entrance to the school was much more than 100 feet. I pointed that out to the lady with the badges, but my protest had no effect; she insisted that the flag at Elmwood Ave. was at the 100-foot mark, and that is where I would have to stand. Absurd as her edict was, I figured that she had the police on her side, so I moved to Elmwood Ave. My new position was much less advantageous than the old one, since I couldn't approach any of the drivers as they got out of their cars. In the hour before 6:00, I collected 21 signatures; in the hour after 6:00 I collected nine. But quite apart from my diminished effectiveness, I was boiling.
When I had finished, I paced off the distance between the flag at Elmwood and the entrance to the school. This was a crude way of measuring, so I did it three times. The shortest measurement of the three came in at 255 feet. I also measured the distance between the nearer flag, where I had been standing originally, and the school entrance. This distance was 78 feet. (However, the voting took place in the school gym, which was at least 25 feet inside the school entrance, so if you add that in, the nearer flag was at least 100 feet from the voting.)

Now my question: Why was I so angry, distressed, and irritated over being told to stand at the Elmwood Ave. flag? After all, whether I got nine or 21 signatures that second hour made very little difference, and I wasn't all that enthusiastic about being there in the first place. So what was it that made me - and I believe would have made you as well - so incensed?
The answer, in brief, is that the commandment from the lady with the badges diminished me as a human being. Let me explain:
What I am - and what you are - is a conscious being. The most basic function of a conscious being is to perceive reality and to act on that perception in accordance with our powers of reasoning.
My clear - and correct - perception was that the Elmwood entrance was much more than 100 feet from the entrance to the polling place. The lady with the badges denied my perception, my view of reality, and made me act in contradiction to it.
On other occasions a claim at odds with my perception would not arouse anger. For example, if the Village Idiot said that Detroit Avenue is 1,000 feet wide, I would merely respond with an amused smile and pass on. The difference between the Village Idiot and the lady with the badges is that she had the power of government on her side. It was as if she was saying, "Black is white, and you better believe it, and if you don't believe it, we will make you act as if you do."
This kind of attitude and policy is a hallmark of totalitarian regimes, most notably of the Soviet Union, where the commissars propounded their Marxist (or pseudo-Marxist) class analysis and theory of history and made all the citizens abide by their pronouncements, no matter how absurd these were in the light of the citizens' perceptions and reasoned judgment. The difference between the commissars and the Village Idiot is that the commissars enforced their ideology through the power of government.
This provoked not only anger but also contempt and a mindless, spiritless obedience, as evidenced by a Soviet-era joke: "We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us."
Are there such commissars, or would-be commissars, in the U.S.? I'm not thinking of the lady with the official badges. Her little absurdity had limited effect, and in all probability can be corrected.
But the commissars of the Religious Right are a different story. Their pronouncements run broader and deeper and have a more lasting impact.
Like the Soviet commissars, the Religious Right aim to impose their own version of reality on the public. Obvious examples are the attempts to enforce school prayer and the insertion of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. By such manipulation of public ceremonies, they imply - and hope to make us accept - that a full-fledged citizen must accept Christian dogma, regardless of his or her perception and reasoned judgments.
(Of course, adults don't need to recite "under God" - I always find something else to do with my mouth when that phrase comes by - and they are free to feel amusement or contempt toward school prayer. But with children it is different. For them, peer pressure and the power of adult models are real and powerful. They are being conditioned to accept Christian dogma no matter what their human perception and reason tell them. This not only diminishes the individual but also diminishes religion by making it a matter of habitual recitation.)
On a more substantive plane, the Religious Right would have us defy science - an organized system of perception and reason - by accepting Creationism.
They would prohibit all abortions, on the grounds that abortion is murder, though the reasoned belief of most citizens is that abortion is not murder. (After all, if abortion is murder, why not bring murder indictments against the women who receive abortions? Why not prosecute those who throw laboratory embryos down the drain?) Again, the Religious Right are trying to impose their own version of reality on the public in disregard of the public's perception and reasoned judgment.
And now, as they target not only abortion but contraception (especially in the form of the morning-after pill), it is becoming clear that their real rationale for prohibiting abortion is not that abortion is murder, but rather that it violates Natural Law, which prescribes that the only legitimate purpose of sex is procreation. The Natural Law Theory is clearly religious dogma, a metaphysical view that the Christian commissars would impose on us despite our perceptions and reasoned beliefs.
It is as if they are saying, "Black is white, and you'd better believe it, and we're doing our utmost to insure that you have to act as if you believe it." The difference between the Village Idiot and the Religious Right is that the latter are attempting to, and in some cases have succeeded in, enforcing their dogma through the power of government.
The same holds true of the campaign against gay marriage.
Controversies about marriage, for me and many others, recall the line from Shakespeare's sonnet: "Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediment." What is marriage - a good marriage, a real marriage - but the joining of true minds?
Consider this in the light of two questions arising from the gay-marriage controversy: Why would opponents of gay marriage want to deny gays their equal rights? And why is the distinction between marriage and civil union of any significance to either side?
The answer in both cases comes down to this: The bigots opposing gay marriage believe that gays are incapable of the loyalty and sentiments that produce the "true minds" necessary to marriage. This is clearly false - another attempt by the Christian commissars to impose their own view of reality, their own theology, metaphysics, and psychology, on the rest of us. (And the claim that gay marriage is a threat to the institution of marriage - as opposed to poverty, for example - is too absurd to warrant discussion.)
I am not speaking merely for those - a minority in some cases, a majority in others - who disagree with the Religious Right's dogma. I speak for everyone. For the attempt to impose dogma strikes at everyone's human being by denying the option of perceiving and of acting on our perceptions in a reasoned way - just as in the case of the lady with the badges, just as in the case of the Soviet commissars. That is the profound truth in the aphorism that "no man is an island" - an insult to the humanity of any one person is, of necessity, an insult to the humanity of all.
In short, I am suggesting that the Christian Right is comparable to Soviet authoritarianism. Both try to impose a view of reality based on their own ideology. Think about it.
Read More on Minding the Issues
Volume 2, Issue 12, Posted 4:04 PM, 06.06.06