Friday, April 29, 2005

Sinners in the Hands of a Right-Wing God

My radio reception is bad. Really bad. I get a handful of FM stations and only one on the AM dial. So, whenever I tire of listening to REO Speedwagon and Billy Squire "hits," I'm forced into the world of Dr. Laura and, of course, Rush Limbaugh.

And so it was, after struggling through one and a half songs of an Eagles "Fourplay" Wednesday afternoon, that I happened to catch Rush going off on a bizarre rant about religion. He has conveniently put a transcript of this tirade on his website under the charming title, "Why Liberals Fear Religious People."

You can tell just from that title what Rush is up to. To him, the left is a godless horde. He uses the terms "liberal," "leftist" and "secularist" interchangeably: "those of you on the left, you secular people" is his mantra. And what sends all liberals into the icy embrace of atheism? Fear. According to Rush, there is "a total lack of understanding and a fear that is felt, quivering in corners, folks, these liberals do when they start, you know, imagining the strength of faith."

Now, I've listened to Rush Limbaugh enough to know that he's not stupid. He's certainly aware that 92% of Americans profess a belief in God (the poll was taken by Fox News, after all). And the financial calculations required in his (alleged) attempt to avoid SEC scrutiny in order to support his prescription drug habit shows that he can handle basic math, too. So he must be capable of figuring out that even if every last atheist in the electorate voted for John Kerry in 2004, that still leaves a whopping 83.54% of Democratic voters who believe in God. (Want me to show my math? Click here.)

Again, Rush isn't stupid; he's just disingenuous. His attitude seems to be, "What I believe isn't important; what really matters is what I can get you to believe" (and in this sense, he's really no different from the Michael Moore's of the world). And what he wants to get people to believe is that liberals are hell-bound atheists who call their pet cats "mongrels" (yes, he actually says this), and that God votes Republican.

To Rush, the only kind of religion that deserves to be called by that name is politically conservative. He takes his vicious slander against moderates and leftists (and against all serious religious people, by the way) and uses it to make some predictable—if bizarre—points. By way of illustration:
If there's no God it means who's supreme? Human beings. Human beings are supreme. Human beings set the rules, not some Bible, not some unseen force that says what's right and wrong. That's not for them, humans do this, humans decide, the humans decide.... So humans are the focal point of everything. That's where global warming comes from. We have the power to destroy the earth. We didn't create it. We couldn't create it. We couldn't cause global warming, but we couldn't stop global warming but to them we can cause it.
This is about par for the course as far as global warming denial is concerned. According to this "logic" we didn't create the world, therefore we can't destroy it. Of course! And I'm incapable of chopping down a tree because I didn't create that, right?

He goes on to attack those who want a separation of church and state by referencing the Everson v. Board of Education Supreme Court case from 1947:
I guarantee all of you secularists and leftists out there, you would have hated America just as much prior to the time when the Supreme Court in 1947 ruled that there's a wall of separation between church and state. Do you know that's the first time that it was actually ruled? We think that it's in the Constitution, a wall of separation and it's not there. There's no such thing. This is another example of how the Constitution has been bastardized by liberalism.
If you didn't know better, you might think that the concept of the separation of church and state is a 20th Century idea. Rush specifically keys in on the phrase "wall of separation," either unaware or, much more likely, confident that his listenership is unaware, that it has its origins in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802.

It's easy to simply say that Rush Limbaugh is a blowhard from whom we should expect such nonsense. This is true, but to stop there ignores a deeper problem: the left has essentially let people like Rush frame the religious debate in the public sphere. They have successfully defined those on the left as America-hating libertines wholly lacking in moral values, which are the sole property of pious right-wingers—God's new chosen people. It's time for religious liberals to fight back with a vigorous defense of their theology and their sense of moral values. (To read a much expanded post on this topic, click here.) It's also important for atheists and agnostics to fight back against the insipid suggestion that they don't believe because they fear faith and are therefore incapable of having a moral foundation.

Rush ends his rant with this nugget of wisdom:
I mean what would you rather have faith in, you know, God or yourself? You need both, but, you know, the people that only have faith in themselves and their fellow human beings, imagine the dismal, miserable existence that is. If you only have faith in your fellow human beings and you look around the news every day what are our fellow human beings doing to each other? It's not a pretty sight.
Yes, when I look around, especially on the AM dial, I can almost see what he means.
(bc)
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