James A. Haught
[This article was originally published in the June/July 1996 issue of Freethought Today.]
Some Republicans are dismayed about the infiltration of their party by the so-called “religious right.”
One of them, former Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., who quit Congress in 1992, has vented his frustrations in a new book, Combat: Twelve Years in the U.S. Senate, released in May by Random House.
In one segment, Rudman laments that the frugal, practical GOP of his youth has been usurped by zealots. He protests:
“If someone had told me in the 1960s that one day I would serve in a Republican Party that opposed abortion rights–which the Supreme Court had endorsed–advocated prayer in the schools, and talked about government-inspired ‘family values,’ I would have thought he was crazy.
“To me, the essence of conservatism is just the opposite: Government should not intrude in anything as personal as the decision to have a child, it should not be championing prayer or religion, and family values should come from families and religious institutions, not from politically inspired, Washington-based moralists.
“Yet I could see the Republican Party gradually being taken over by ‘movement’ conservatives and self-commissioned Christian soldiers whose social agenda I found repugnant.”
The former senator–who crusaded to balance the federal budget and stop ruinous government debt–said he once enjoyed bargaining with Democrats to work out compromises beneficial to the nation. But that became increasingly difficult as ideologues gained power on Capitol Hill.
Rudman blames both sides for the alienation. He says Democratic assaults on Supreme Court nominees Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas widened the gulf. And he says former President Bush embraced extremists.
“Bush was weakened politically by his flirtation with the religious right,” Rudman says. “On abortion and other issues he became their captive. The climax came when far-right spokesmen all but dominated the Republican convention in Houston in 1992.
“I was a delegate to the convention, but when I saw the agenda–Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan and all the rest–I changed my plans and joined some other senators on a fact-finding mission to Croatia. I thought that with my views I might be safer in Zagreb than in Houston.”
Rudman says the Christian right is “neither Christian nor right.” It lacks the “love and compassion and forgiveness” preached by the New Testament, he says, and instead exudes intolerance. “I don’t even like the Christian Coalition’s name,” he says, because it implies that all Christians share evangelist Robertson’s far-right agenda.
“In my experience, religious zeal and politics don’t mix. Look at Belfast, Beirut and Bosnia if you want proof. Does the comparison sound extreme? Not when doctors are being gunned down outside abortion clinics….”
Rudman says he grew so disheartened that he quit Congress–and other senior senators and representatives soon followed, as the chasm on Capitol Hill widened.
He says the 1994 Republican election victory worsened the problem, filling Congress with militants “who imagine the republic imperiled by flag-burners and gay activists, and whose idea of enlightened debate is to wave pictures of fetuses on the Senate floor….
“They seem hellbent on replacing the excesses of the left with the excesses of the right, ignoring the fact that mainstream America wants neither.”
In reality, the ex-senator writes, most Americans are moderates who want practical government, not radical policies or hidebound rules.
Americans are “an incredibly diverse people” of many “races, religions and lifestyles,” Rudman says. “The only way so diverse a nation can survive is by all of us practicing a high degree of tolerance.
“But tolerance is not the way of the Christian right. Its leaders want to impose their one-size-fits-all morality on everyone. It won’t work. When any group tries to impose its values on everyone else, the result will inevitably be resentment, hatred and violence.”
Rudman says the GOP “is making a terrible mistake” by allying itself with this movement which contains “enough antiabortion zealots, would-be censors, homophobes, bigots and latter-day Elmer Gantrys to discredit any party that is unwise enough to embrace such a group.”
Perhaps Rudman’s book will have impact on America’s political parties, lessening the ugly polarization. If it does, he will have achieved more in retirement than he could in the sundered Senate.
The ex-senator’s blast is one of several recent counterattacks on simplistic religion. Another assault was loosed by astronomer Carl Sagan in his new book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. And a third book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, by Jewish scholar Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, says the Nazi horrors were spawned by centuries of Christian hostility to Jews, especially the anti-Semitism of Martin Luther.
Are times changing? Are more voices beginning to assert that religion can be a detriment to humanity? Well, it’s about time.
“Well, It’s About Time” is copyright © 1993 by James A. Haught. All rights reserved.
The electronic version is copyright © 1997 by Internet Infidels with the written permission of James A. Haught. All rights reserved.