by Heather Wokusch
As the religious right gains ground in the US, accompanied by politicians evoking the god-fearing values of good and evil, a culture honoring diversity is replaced by calls for apocalyptic war.
As always, the schoolyard has become a major political battleground. Hysteria over removing "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance aside, the latest educational minefield lies in the origins of life: namely a return to the 1925 Scopes Trial debate of evolution vs. creationism. For example, to promote Christianity, Cobb County, Georgia is putting disclaimers on its science textbooks, saying that evolution is "a theory, not a fact," and school districts from Kansas to Ohio are enmeshed in battles royale over an issue that should be settled in a country separating church and state.
Not that bible-banging US attorney general John Ashcroft is troubled by the far right's assault on the First Amendment; claiming "I think all we should legislate is morality," the man charged with upholding the Constitution has instead slowly dissected it to fit his far-right Assemblies of God ideals.
And then there's Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's insisting "the religious viewpoint should have a role in the legislative and political process." Speaking at the University of Chicago earlier this year, Scalia cited the New Testament to assert government, "derives its moral authority from God ... to execute wrath, including even wrath by the sword," adding, "the more Christian a country is, the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral ... for the believing Christian, death is no big deal."
Good thing he cleared that up because for many of us death seems like a pretty big deal indeed.
The upshot of all this is that by promoting fear and blind arrogance, "leaders" charged with protecting the tolerance and diversity that make our country strong, chisel away at the base instead. Their approach boils down to: "If you are one of us, religious freedom and life itself are all-important; if you are one of them, your beliefs are wrong and your death is no big deal."
This attitude would be creepy enough if many of those marching us into a Middle Eastern blowout didn't believe in a literal Armageddon. Not helpful either that a full 59% of Americans polled say they believe in the apocalyptic events predicted in the Bible's Book of Revelations: when the Messiah returns on judgement day, believers will be lifted to glorious heaven while sinful non-believers will be "left behind" to do battle with the anti-Christ. All of this is complicated by the belief that the Messiah can return only if a new temple is built on Temple Mount, one of the holiest - and most contentious - sites for Islam, Judaism and Christianity combined.
So we're left with US arsenals of mass destruction in the hands of politicians with a simplistic good/evil, us/them approach to the globe - among whom are those seeking salvation in a fiery Middle Eastern apocalypse.
Not the most comforting reality as the potentially nuclear Palestine-Israel conflict implodes, and Iraq is backed into more dangerous corner every day.
While longing for deeper meaning is natural in times like these, divisiveness and fiery death aren't the correct goals. And who said our lawmakers should be in the business of legislating morality and defining life and death according to their own religious beliefs?
Ultimately, rather than glorifying in the sinners "left behind" to face torturous battles with the anti-Christ, we should focus on helping those left behind by today's unbalanced social and economic systems. Through diversity and tolerance we all are lifted up; through small-minded arrogance and greed we all lose.
Heather Wokusch is a free-lance writer with a background in clinical psychology. Her work as been featured in publications and websites internationally. Heather can be contacted via her website: http://www.heatherwokusch.com/