Humanistic Judaism, Spring, 1991
The Arkansas state legislature has passed a bill requiring science teachers to give as much time to the Genesis story of creation as a gift to the Darwinian story of evolution.
A California judge just recently declared the teachers and the California public schools must acknowledge the evolution is only a theory and not a fact.
Paul Laxalt, a conservative senator from Nevada, has co-sponsored a bill in Congress, which is called a Family Protection Act and what to remove the issues of abortion and teacher qualification from the jurisdiction of the higher courts.
Committees of the Christian fundamentalists in southern Texas organizing to remove the pornographic writings of Salenger and Hemingway from the shelves
Committees of the Christian fundamentalists in southern Texas organizing to remove the pornographic writings of Salenger and Hemingway from the shelves of public library’s.
Mark Siljander, and Michigan Republican primary candidate actually backed by the Moral Majority, recently want to surprise victory against seemingly overwhelming odds.
A letter arrives to my office address to ‘you humanist bastard’.The anonymous author proclaims, ‘The Age of the Enlightenment is dead. The Age of Faith is reborn’.
Is the age of enlightenment really dying?
Well, if it were up to the Moral Majority and to its allies in the New Right, it’s certainly would be. The advocates of political Christian fundamentalism are determined to reverse the course of 200 years of American history and to turn our country into a Puritan version of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran.
The ideas and the ideals of the Enlightenment are now under attack. The Age of Reason is now on the defensive. The belief in an orderly world governed by natural law, the valuing of reason is the best method for the discovery of truth, the ability to live with uncertainty and the tentativeness of judgments, the eagerness to welcome new ideas, and maximizing of individual freedom and personal options, the assumption that good citizenship as possible without denominational religion—all these affirmations of the enlightenment are now being assaulted by voices of reaction.
The voice of reason is being drowned out by the voice of Fanaticism.
Who is this voice of Fanaticism?
The list is long. There is…
The Moral Majority of Jerry Falwell
The Christian Voice of Jerry Jarmon
The Religious Roundtable of Ed McAteer
The Committee for the Survival of the Free Congress of Paul Weyrich
The Christian Crusade of Billy Joe Hargis
The Stop ERA of Phyllis Schlafly
The Conservatives Caucus of Howard Phillips
What do they want? They want. Period.
The National Conservative Political Action Committee of Tim Dolan
The Conservative Digestive Richard Viguerie
And the remnants of the John Birch Society
As well as many others.
To put prayers in the public school;
To insinuate Bible stories into public science classrooms;
To censor classic literature they deem morally offensive;
To undermine our judicial system a state secular education;
To use public money to support denominational religion;
To ban sex education;
To limit sexual freedom;
To defeat the ERA universe the hard-won gains of female liberation;
To ban abortions;
To revive political witch hunts in the name of anti-communism;
To secure a political power to make the changes they desire.
How are they going about getting what they want?
They have developed a simple message that everyone can understand. Unlike the complex answers of liberal intellectuals, their analysis of the causes of crime, poverty, and family decline can be reduced to a simple observation. Turning away from God and the Bible is responsible for moral decay. It, therefore, logically follows that, if we turn back to God in the Bible, all will be well.
They have infiltrated political parties. They are encouraging their members to become active Republicans and Democrats. They have already taken over the Republican Party in Alaska and are aiming for broader victories.
They pushed through members to go out and vote for the candidate they have chosen–or, in many cases, vote against the political figures they have targeted. Church of Idaho, McGovern of South Dakota, Bayh of Indiana and many others were victims of their effective campaign.
They have mastered the media. Ironically, the technology which the spirit assigned to sponsors of them better than it serves defenders of science. They understand the power of radio and television to indoctrinate the masses and to mobilize them for social action. Fundamentalist station channels are proliferating. Millions of dollars are pouring in weekly from enthusiastic audiences. The political fundamentalists have entered the home of every American with their electronic campaign.
Alliances with formally angry opponents. Hostility to the public school system, the advocacy to parochial education and hatred of abortion unite them with conservative Catholics. The salvation style of fundamentalist Christianity makes them appealing to native Blacks. The Bible approach to the importance of the state of Israel into the Begin government claim to the West Bank and Gaza gives them support in the Jewish community. They have cleverly decided to woo their old enemies.
They have encountered very little organized opposition. The tendency of many liberals and moderates to regard them as funny fanatics who will ultimately fade away serves them well. The smugness of the academic and intellectual communities make it easy for them to succeed by default. Why are they here to begin with? Why is there a resurgence of political fundamentalism the national scale?
There are several important reasons.
They have always been around. But, they now have a new self-confidence. The decline of the North and the growing prosperity of the South has given them economic clout and greater self-esteem. After all, the heartland of fundamentalism is the South. And the South is no longer the depressed region which sponsored the ‘hillbilly’ mentality. Prosperity has created a new assertiveness and an eagerness to defend the ethnic religion.
The economic recession in most of America has frustrated millions of citizens. They are angry and troubled about their declining living standards and do not know how to deal with economic forces over which they seem to have no control. This is a good beginning for religious fervor and paranoia.
Spreading problems of crime and family decline terrified money people. Liberal clichés about personal freedom do not deal with the real question. Concern for personal safety and the welfare of children is a valid concern. The fundamentalists have a silly solution to the problem. But, at least, they’re trying to answer the question.
Most people understand how to use technology. But, do not understand the spirit of free inquiry which makes the development of technology possible. Or educational system has produced technologists. But, it has not developed the mentality of true science. We are not living in an age of science. We are still living in an age of superstition, where irrational people have access to technology.
So what can we do? How could we, as defenders of reason and free inquiry, respond to their provocation?
We can take the problem seriously. Given their determination, economic power and mass appeal, the forces of the New Right and their social agenda will not easily sleep it away.
We can organize. We can band together to become a public Voice of Reason to counter the propaganda and political activity of the political fundamentalists.
What would be the message of the voice of reason?
It would be positive. It will not allow the New Right to put us in the position of always being against. It would state very clearly that we are for three traditional American values–free inquiry —having good citizenship in a secular state—community peace and harmony—with the consequent need to avoid imposing controversial moral values on everybody.
It would be patriotic. It would not permit the opposition to claim Americanism. It would demonstrate that the founding fathers were disciples of the Enlightenment –not pious religionists. Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Franklin resisted the Moral Majority of their day to lay the foundations of a secular state.
It would be moral. It would not simply defend negative freedom and turn over all the ethical vocabulary to the moralists on the right. It will declare that teaching values is an important part of public education. After all, reliability, honesty, cooperation, sharing, and self-control are part of good citizenship. They are necessary, non-controversial discipline n in a secular state. While denominational religion can reinforce these values, they can also be derived from reason and common sense. In a land of competing religions, the shared reasonable approach is the only feasible way to teach social discipline and to preserve community peace.
It would be sensitive. It would acknowledge the worries that many poor and middle-income Americans have about crime, child pornography, and family decline. It would be concerned with pragmatic responses to these issues.
It would be non-partisan. Many Republicans, as well as Democrats, fear the Moral Majority and its attempts to take over the machinery of the political parties. The Voice of Reason would not identify with the liberal economic agenda. It would recognize that both economic liberals and economic conservatives are in favor of the secular state and free inquiry.
How was the Voice of Reason go about spreading this message?
It would establish a national organization.
It would secure the endorsement of prominent ‘stars’ in the natural and social sciences, as well as the backing of public figures.
It would produce materials for public distribution.
It would create media programs for radio and television.
It would hold public meetings and rallies to generate publicity and create a sense of group solidarity.
It would train citizens to be the effective voices of reason and to answer the distortion of the New Right.
It would issue position papers to evaluate proposed legislation.
It would monitor the behavior of Congress and state legislators and support targeted candidates, whether Republican or Democratic.
It would solicit money to make this campaign possible.
Right now, the Voice of Reason is more than a ‘would’. It is an ‘is’. Last December, a national organization called the Voice of Reason was established in Michigan and Illinois. Its founding committee came from both the Society for humanistic Judaism and from other concern groups.
The voice of reason is growing. It is reaching out to many other states. It needs your help and support.