Now that I have talked about religion in general, let’s look at what happened in our own country. You will notice that it is mostly about Christianity. The only reason for this is because the vast majority of Americans who are religious claim that they are Christians.
As you may recall from grade school history, the first settlers came to America in order to escape what they called religious persecution. These “pilgrims” as they became to be known were also called Puritans. Puritans were a sect of the Church of England. They fought against what they claimed was the over Catholic influence in the Church of England. They wanted to exclude all vestiges of Catholicism from the Church of England. They were fought against by the Church of England leaders and thus considered themselves to be persecuted.
They wanted to set up their version of utopia in America. They wanted to ensure that their version of religion was what was practiced here. That led to very strict rules in everyday life. Also, according to the times, it also led to things like the Salem Witch Trials.
As most religious people of the time, they believed that the devil was very real and trying to convert people to Satan’s ways. Therefore, when things happened wrong, it must be that the devil caused the problem. Since the devil needed people to help him, it was common to believe in witches and other satanic followers.
The witch trials were not unique to America. They were very rampant all across Western Europe as well. It is this ‘evil in the world” that led to the belief in witches, werewolves, vampires, and zombies. These creatures were all pawns of the devil intending to destroy normal people in the devil’s name.
The Puritans were so emphatic in their beliefs, that Christmas wasn’t even celebrated in the parts of America where they controlled everyday life. They considered the celebration of Christmas as too pagan, and besides only Easter was the real religious celebration. It wasn’t until other cultures came to America that Christmas began being celebrated here.
As time went by, America became more secular. Different sects of Christianity came to America and the Puritans began to lose their control over government, except in New England. To the Puritans, the worst part came with Catholics coming to Maryland, which began its existence as a Catholic Colony. The Quakers took over Pennsylvania, and other sects began controlling other colonies.
Slavery was also a “religiously defended” institution. Blacks were considered inferior to whites, and the bible seems to say it is okay to own slaves. Therefore, what became known as the “peculiar institution” spread across the southern colonies. Cheap labor made the cotton plantations profitable for its owners.
At the time our country was founded, in the 1700s, every country on the planet had an “official religion.” When we won our independence from England, it was obvious to our Founding Fathers, who belonged to a variety of religions that an “official religion” was out of the question.
When the Bill of Rights was introduced, the First Amendment ensured a separation of church and state. They didn’t want to fall into the same trap that Europe had fallen into. The trap where “religious leaders” had more power than the civil leaders. In order to ensure “freedom” it was important to ensure that “freedom” included your religious beliefs.
On top of that, many of our Founding Fathers like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin were not really part of any church. This was the time of enlightenment. Many of our Founding Fathers considered themselves as Deists. This was a belief in God, but not necessarily to any one particular “religion.” The last thing these Deists wanted was an “official religion” for their country.
That is the major reason we enjoy freedom of religion today. When people today want to name “Christianity” as the “official religion” of America, you must ask which sect of Christianity do they mean? There are so many different versions of Christianity that simply saying Christianity isn’t good enough. We have Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Calvin, Apostolic, Mormon, Evangelical and a host of other “Christian” religions.
Each sect of Christianity has different beliefs and different rules. That is why it is important to understand which sect of Christianity these fanatics are talking about as being our “official religion.” Of course before that can happen, we need a Constitutional Amendment allowing the state to name an official religion since the First Amendment does not allow for that.
Throughout our history, religion has led to some good things, and some bad things. Many of the anti-slavery people quoted religion as grounds to end slavery. They considered it an abomination in the face of God. Of course slave holders quoted the same religious texts to justify its continuation. Religious fever led to Prohibition. All Prohibition gave us was bootleggers and organized crime.
Without prohibition, the Mafia would not have been able to monopolize liquor sales and importation, and thus would not have gained such a stranglehold in our society. It was religious fervor that let to prohibition and thus our organized crime problem.
You will hear many people today stating that the words “under God” in our pledge of allegiance is sacred. They have been part of our pledge of allegiance forever. Yet, those words were not included in our pledge of allegiance until the 1950s during the “big red scare.” We added those words to help differentiate us from our enemies the Communists.
The Communists were atheists, so we wanted to prove that “God was on our side” by adding those words. A joke of the time said that the Communists were planning on our destruction seven days a week. While we spend the seventh day in church praying that they didn’t come up with something.
They will also tell you that “In God We Trust” has been a motto on our money forever. Unfortunately, those words weren’t added to the money until the 1920s. So, these two “sacred” phrases that religious people want you to believe have been around since the country was founded, are actually 20th century additions.
Religion has played a part in discrimination for generations. Even in the 20th century, religion paved the way to discriminate against minorities. It was even used to discriminate against Catholics. When I was growing up, there was a phrase that was widely accepted. It was WASP. It stood for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.
The gist of this phrase was if you weren’t a WASP, you were allowed to be discriminated against. The first candidate to run for President who was Catholic was Al Smith. There wasn’t a whole lot of hoopla over his candidacy because he was running against FDR and had no chance of winning.
The religious right was always against women in the workplace. During World War II, it was necessary for women to join the workforce. There simply weren’t enough men to man the assembly lines for our war material. Women took those places on the line. When the war ended, there was a horrible fear that women would rather stay at work than go back home “where they belonged.”
The religious right has always believed that women are inferior to men. They based their assumption on the story of Adam and Eve. It was all Eve’s fault that mankind lost the right to be in the Garden of Eden. If Eve hadn’t “forced” Adam to eat that damn apple, we would never have gotten thrown out in the first place. So, women were not as good a men. In fact, women were basically evil intent on bringing mankind down.
As a result of this stupidity, those women who stayed in the workplace received less pay than their male counterparts. We began to see some jobs migrate to women only positions. There was a time, for example, when men were bank tellers. However, banks learned that they could pay women less and started hiring more women into the position.
It was perfectly okay to pay women less money because they were supposed to get married to a real “bread-winner” so they didn’t need to earn as much. It was at this time we started seeing more and more women enter the workplace, all at lower wages. But, unions were gaining strength at the time, so income inequality was kept down.
It was during this time that the economics clearly stated that workers deserved a share of the profits as well as management. As profits grew, wages grew as well. That helped fuel the economy and it grew tremendously through the 1950s. All of this time, religion kept a “back seat” in politics.
Then in 1960, John Kennedy ran for President. He was Catholic. That put the WASPS on edge, to say the least. The hoopla over his candidacy was so outrageous that he actually had to go on TV to give a speech about how his religion would not affect his political decisions. Protestants didn’t want the Pope to have any say in how things went in this country. One of the major battle cries against Kennedy was “a vote for Kennedy was a vote for the Pope.”
Kennedy won the election, and things started to heat up. He started talking like the Jim Crow laws were un-American. He started talking like all Americans deserved the same Civil Rights as everyone else, including blacks. The attacks on blacks in the south began to escalate. Not only of blacks, but of the “Freedom Riders” who went to the south to help blacks gain their right to vote and other civil rights.
The southern states became a battle ground. The KKK with the blessings of their “Christian Ministers” waged this war with vigor. The number of black churches burned increased. Killings increased. The violence against blacks was really out-of-control. We even saw George Wallace give his infamous “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” speech. The right-wing churches were all in agreement and were willing to preach the same thing from their pulpits.
With everything that happened during the 1960s, sometime in the 1970s, the Evangelical movement began. Many so-called Christians felt that the current crop of churches did not follow the scriptures strictly enough. We started hearing phrases like non-denominational churches. Even at the time, I felt that the Evangelical movement was simply a return to Puritanism. It was also a continuation of some Christian backlash against integration. The 1960s upset the status quo, and that was terrifying to these right-wing conservative whites.
This status quo upset came out of not only the Civil Rights Bill, but the Roe v. Wade decision from the Supreme Court that made abortion legal. There was also a huge backlash over the birth control pill. These new Puritans felt that both opened the door to free sex. The cultural revolution of the Hippies in the 1960s was used to prove their point. A favorite saying of the Hippies was “turn on and drop out.”
The biggest backlash didn’t just come from southern states. It also came from right-wing religious figures. There were thousands of “Christian Ministers” who were also members of the KKK. They were against Civil Rights for anyone who wasn’t white. They still believed in “white supremacy.” Additionally, the televangelist began springing up all around. They all preached the “pure” teachings of the bible. They preached status quo. They preached puritanical principles. Of course they also preached to “send in your checks so we can continue the good work.”
It was after the Civil Rights bill that the KKK began to lose some of its strength. But, others were more than willing to fill the gap. The American Nazi Party stepped into the void. The Aryan Nation began to sprout up. And the Militia movement began in earnest. All of these groups wrapped themselves in religion to justify their hate and bigotry. Unfortunately, too many of the same Christian Ministers joined their ranks as well.
In 1968, Richard Nixon ran for President. He came up with his “southern strategy.” The “southern strategy” was to get southern bigots and evangelicals to support the Republican Party. After Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights bill, Southern Democrats, known as “Dixiecrats” started to change parties because the last thing they wanted was integration.
Nixon realized that the south was prime territory where he could make up ground on the democrats. And, since the south is also known traditionally as the “Bible Belt” it was convenient for him to appease the religious fanatics as well. Especially since religious fanatics at the time did not want integration either. That is why he came up with his “silent majority” to define these bigots.
Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey that year. Although Nixon turned out to be a pretty good President when it came to foreign policy, he was terrible in all other aspects of the job. He gave us “détente” and was the first President to visit China. Yet, he was also responsible for getting the IRS involved in “revenge” audits of his political enemies. Finally, he gave us Watergate. It was Watergate that forced him to resign. The only President forced out of office for his crimes.
The country went through a kind of malaise after Watergate. In 1976, Jimmy Carter was elected President. The oddity of the Carter years was that his drunken brother got more ink than the President did. Until he got the Camp David Peace Accord between Egypt and Israel.
Unfortunately for Carter, another fanatical group of a different religion deposed the Shah of Iran. Their radical leader took over the country. Later, radicals attacked the U.S. Embassy in Iran, and took our employees there hostage. That was the first real salvo in the war between U.S. Christianity and Middle East Islam.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan took advantage of this salvo. He openly courted the Evangelical votes. He was able to sway them with his “religious belief” talk. His “traditional marriage” talk. And his demonization of the poor and of Islam. When you combined all of these things together, he was able to persuade the religious right that he was their savior. He would make sure that their pockets would flow with cash and life would be magical.
It was during his Presidency that greed crept more-and-more into the American Lexicon. Greed became synonymous with having “god’s blessings.” When I was young, religious people told you to count your blessings. Beginning with Reagan, religious people started saying they were rich because God was rewarding them for their faithfulness.
Evangelical Christianity became the pathway to wealth. If you did not obtain that wealth, you simply weren’t religious enough. Another down side was that since God was rewarding these people, it was perfectly okay to trample down unions. It was perfectly okay to keep worker’s pay down. It was okay to discard the poor and tell them it was their fault they were poor.
It suddenly became religiously fashionable to discriminate against everyone who wasn’t just as religious and/or wealthy as you. Suddenly, the rich became God’s Chosen People. Christianity which once was a religion of charity and inclusiveness, suddenly became a religion of greed and discrimination. It suddenly became a religion of open hate and bigotry.
As a line in a movie of the times once said, “he who has the most when he dies, wins!” Somehow, the words of Jesus, which Christianity is supposed to be based on were forgotten. Remember, Jesus said “it is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle” Those words were reversed. It was now much easier for rich to enter paradise. After all, their cheating of customers, their wage theft from workers, their rewarding themselves with massive “golden parachutes” creating their wealth, was all perfectly fine because it was all a gift from God.
It was during these days that the current crop of Republicans and Tea Party members got their beginning. They learned from a very early age that wealth was all that mattered. They learned from a very early age that you can blame those “others” for all of the problems. They learned from a very early age that wealth was a sign from God that you can do no wrong.
That is why there is so much divisiveness today. That is why there is so much polarization today. The religious right has finally gotten their saviors. The Republican Party of today has fallen for the old Puritanical vision of the 1600s. If you are not a member of their sect, you have no rights.
They even try to make you believe that was the purpose of the Founding Fathers. That is why they try to claim that the Constitution was based on “Christian laws.” It is all bullshit. It is all made-up to justify their desire to rule. It has led us to candidates like Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, and of course Ted Cruz.
It has been a long journey before religion could get its hold on American Politics. Now that they have it, they are not about to let go easily. Tomorrow we will look at how this all morphed into today’s politics.
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