As most of my friends and readers know, I hold a strong belief that there simply is no "god". For me, such a belief is too improbable to consider. I am vocal (and occasionally a little snarky) in my dislike and disdain for religion – but my quarrel is not specifically with belief in things that I personally consider irrational. After all, people I love and care about believe lots of things I consider ridiculous – that they will win big at the lottery someday…that the chocolates they eat in the afternoon won’t interfere with their diet…that their loved ones who regularly hurt them will someday change…that Bono cares deeply about poor people (there’s that “snarky” again). But the truth is my quarrel is not with belief in unlikely things in and of themselves. I have many friends who hold beliefs in “higher powers” as well as the things mentioned above, who are honorable, giving, “good” people whom I love and respect. I don’t necessarily think that we all must choose to live in the cold spotlight of absolute reality at every moment of our lives.
But some beliefs are dangerous. I have known people, for example, who were certain of their ability to drive a car after consuming a large quantity of alcohol. The confident belief in “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, now discredited, is largely responsible for the deaths of nearly five thousand US soldiers (in Iraq alone) and over a million Iraqi civilians (although the statistics vary widely). The point I’m trying to make here is that individual beliefs should be respected – to a point – and that some beliefs are too dangerous to be allowed to continue unchallenged. If the chocolate you are sneaking from the desk drawer each afternoon is putting you at risk of diabetic shock…if the loved one you cherish is physically violent and an imminent threat to your safety…if you are playing the lottery instead of paying your mortgage – your belief has crossed a line. It has become dangerous to you and quite likely to others and it needs to be questioned.
The kind of danger I’m referring to was palpable to me when I happened upon this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJPcB9JMyu4&
For those of you without the patience to watch it through, it’s a montage from the recent prayer rally “initiated” by Texas Governor and (now) Presidential contender, Rick Perry. Here’s what you’d see:
A football stadium chorus of people of many ages and races singing over and over “there’s no god like Jehovah”
A benediction delivered by a woman declaring “we pledge allegiance to the lamb, the true source of liberty and justice for us all”
Introduction of the “co-chairs” of the event, including such luminaries of intolerance and manipulative rhetoric as, Focus on the Family founder, Dr. James Dobson (if you aren’t familiar, here’s a primer http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2005/spring/a-mighty-army#10 )
Multiple references to “our savior Jesus Christ” (at what was allegedly an interfaith rally), “lord and king”, “father god”, “our lord” etc. and Governor Perry himself telling the crowd that the “only thing you love more (than America) is the living Christ”
The last two minutes are the most disturbing as they feature a series of near hysterical teens beseeching their god to “send revival” especially to our schools to “save America”
You can find more about this event at http://theresponseusa.com/
So here’s where the rubber meets the road. Do I think it’s okay for the people in this video to hold the beliefs they do, beliefs I consider improbable and ridiculous? For the most part…yes. Believing in a god, an afterlife, a creator, a metaphysical father watching over us – don’t, as such, represent an imminent threat to others (although I question if some of the young people at the close of this clip have actually been able to choose these beliefs, and they don’t appear to be affording much peace or comfort.). But this is the governor of the second largest state in the US (by both square miles and population), a man who has announced his intention to become the leader of this nation (a nation founded on the separation of church and state). This man denies, and cites religious evidence for such denial of both evolution, and of a human contribution to the warming of the planet. He is a signer of the “Pre-natal Protection Act” which specifically includes fetuses in the definition of “human life.” He has used his religious convictions as justification for signing bills forbidding state funding of Planned Parenthood health centers and for compelling women to view a sonogram prior to undergoing an elective abortion. He has stated that he believes in the “inerrancy of the bible”and that all those who do not accept Jesus Christ as savior are going to hell.
Do I feel threatened by Governor Perry’s beliefs? You bet I do. Don’t you? It's 3am, there’s an empty bottle of tequila on the lawn and Perry’s backing out of the driveway.
*with thanks and apologies to Carrie Underwood for “inspiration”.