Monday, March 28, 2005

March 26, 2005

March 25-27, 2005
Weekend Edition

merica’s Christian fundamentalists have been on quite a roll. But that roll may be coming to an end, and for predictable reasons.

The trouble with fundamentalists, be they political, ideological or religious, is they can never be satisfied. It’s purity, not piecemeal reform that drives them. Purity, being just another word for “perfection,” cannot of course be attained. So, a fundamentalist’s work is never done.

That fact argues against even trying to engage fundamentalists in the political process. Tthey are simply not interested in compromise or even coexistence, but an unattainable image of divine perfection.

So they tend to wear on the fabric of any society of which they are a part. That’s how the Puritans ended up in the New World. (Lucky us) They finally wore out their welcome and got their neverendingly obnoxious butts tossed out. Unfortunately there are no more New Worlds where we can send their Christian Right progeny. We’re stuck with them.

But, unlike the Old World, the modern world is wired, and that may be our salvation, so to speak. In the Puritan’s day knowledge, information and education were scarce commodities. Today they are just plain commodities. We are up to necks in the stuff. That’s a very good thing for society, and a bad thing for fundamentalists.

Example -- stem cell research. The right to lifers saw the issue of fetal stem cell research as a useful lever in their anti-abortion crusade. If they could get the government to agree with them that a fertilized egg in a petri dish was a human being, then what’s a fertilized egg in a woman’s uterus?

And, of course, the Bush administration was happy to accommodate them. For Republicans the stem cell issue appeared to be a cheap and easy way to throw a bone to their religious right supporters without paying a political price from pro-choice voters.

And, it looked like the ploy had worked because back then, who knew?. The general public had only sketchy information about stem cells. In particular they did not understand what an empty jesture it was when President Bush, announced he was going to allow research on existing stem cell “lines,” but not the creation of new lines. Turns out that was worse than empty jesture.

Since then the public has learned more about stem cell research. Liberals and conservatives alike have learned that those existing lines Bush touted were old, contaminated by years of research and virtually useless for the kind or groundbreaking research scientists wanted to do.

And voters also learned more about the various of deseases scientists believe stem cells might be able to treat or even cure. Millions of American families have loved ones suffering from those very diseases, many of them “pro-life” families. They started to ask themselves how they could be pro-life and pppose life-saving anti-stem cell research. How they could fight for the rights for an unborn human but let full-term humans die of diseases that might be cured by stem cell treatments.

Earlier this year California voters broke with the Bush administration by passing a taxpayer-funded bond that not only encourages stem cell research but subsidizes it.

The message was getting through to voters. The public was onto the Republicans stem cell gambit. The jig was up.

The most recent proof of that was in this morning's paper:

“The House leadership has agreed to allow a floor vote on a bill that would loosen the restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research imposed by President Bush in 2001, according to members of Congress and others privy to the arrangement. The vote, expected to take place within the next two to three months, would be the first of its kind on the politically charged topic since Bush declared much of the research off-limits to federal funding.” (Washington Post)

Last year almost half -- 206 members of the House, including 31 Republicans and many opposed to abortion -- signed letters begging Bush to reconsider his stem cell ban. A survey of 1,054 adults, conducted for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine found that more than two-thirds of Americans support stem cell research.

Nevertheless, the religious right will continue to fight it.

"I look forward to the opportunity to help defeat it," said Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of pro-life activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Then we can set aside this silly obsession and concentrate on things that are actually working for patients."

The difference is, this time they will lose. And there is an important lesson in that the religous right should try very hard to grasp. Whenever that successfuly foist their narrow fundamentalist beliefs on the rest of us, they create a backlash that will wipe away their gains.

For example, an actual ban on abortions would result in a steady drumbeat of tragic stories on the news -- women in tears and family doctors being led away in handcuffs and charged with felonies. Dr. Welby in stir.

Those pols foolish enough to have voted for an abortion ban would be unseated in the next election cycle. And the first order of business by their replacements would be to reverse the ban, and that would be the end of the abortion debate for generations, or forever.

The same goes for pther Christian fundamentalist demands such as prayer in public schools, religious statues on government property, and banning the teaching of evolution in schools.

Go ahead you guys, push for those things and win. I dare you.

Speaking of the stupefaction of America, did you hear this one?

IMAX theaters throughout the Bible belt are refusing to show the science documentary, "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea." The reason? Pressure from local fundamentalist Christian groups. They don’t like mention in the movie that DNA found in living cells around volcanic vents bear similarities to human cells.

“Folks around these parts don’t believe in evolution,” a South Carolina Christian minister explained. “They believe in creationism.”

Think about this for moment, because it proves my earlier point about the futility of trying to satisfy fundamentalists.

The IMAX documentary in question is not about evolution. It's about undersea volcanoes and the life forms that live around them. All the film did “wrong” was to mention that scientists found similarities between cells retrieved from the undersea vents and human cells.

So, you see, Christian fundamentalists are already moving the anti-science line further right. Now all a piece of science has to do to get banned is to discover anything that supports the theory of evolution. Never mind that no one has stepped forward to disprove this finding. True or not, our Christian Taliban will have no pa
rt of it.

( Ignorance is bliss. Don’t mess with our bliss. )

"A number of theaters said, `We're not taking the film literally for fear of the reaction of the audience," said Richard Lutz, a Rutgers University oceanographer who was chief scientist for the film.

Nothing is more frightening than ignorance -- except militant, arrogant, willful ignorance.

Nevertheless, this was actually a pretty good week for the forces of reason. Terri Schiavo’s body is finally being allowed to join the rest of her as she had wished. And those calculating, conniving Republicans in Congress have suddenly figured out that their fundamentalist Christian supporters maneuvered them onto the wrong sides of BOTH Schiavo and stem cell matters.

There is one thing though that apparently can change the mind of a fundamentalist – self-interest. As the Schiavo case proceeded even many Christian fundamentalists began to understand that the next Terri Schiavo could well be someone in their own family. And did they really want Tom DeLay chasing them around their loved one's deathbed with a feeding tube?

Remember Nancy “just say no” Reagan? She changed her views on fetal stem cell research only after fate forced her to watch powerlessly her own husband die a slow death from dementia. D
o you believe for one second that she would have switched camps on stem cell research if Ronny had died become pro-stem cell research had Reagan instead died of a sudden heart attack? Forget about it. She would be out there with the right to lifers opposing such research right now. "Just say no,” became "please say yes” because the issue became personal.

So, fundamentalists make a fatal mistake when they fail to calculate the impact of their policies on the rest of us should they actually prevail -- that by winning they end up losing.

Oh, and one more thing fundamentalists don’t seem understand: NEVER present a politician with the choice of either saving their immortal soul or their job. They will ALWAYS choose the job.

Have a nice weekend.

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