Since the political activation in the 1970s of the “moral majority” and “religious right,” the policy agenda of the “greed is good” Wall Street and Military Industrial Complex faction in America has been advanced under the cloak of religious morality.
It’s quite a cute trick. Some of the most egregiously immoral policies and practices in history are justified by the insistence that they are allegedly “moral” by the standard of some false prophet or fringe peddler of religious snake oil, and snakes.
Not a new tactic, religion and superstition have been used for eons by ruling classes to terrify, suppress and pacify the lower classes, who otherwise might be busying themselves with organizing revolutions against the sources of their misery.
It has been well documented, for example, that the British throne unleashed a religious revival among the unwashed in England in the late 1700s to deter the spread of the revolutionary ferment that led to American independence. Fear emanating from angry pulpits and tent meetings of “hell fire and brimstone” was substituted for the righteous anger that the brutally oppressed were fully justified harboring.
The thousands of British debtor prisoners dumped into the southern U.S. states indoctrinated in this gospel of fear formed the core of the fundamentalist, snake handling churches that proliferated in the U.S., that in the 1970s were suddenly activated as political arms of the U.S. ruling class.
Yes, it was against this trend that the Founding Fathers and other architects of the American revolution and U.S. Constitution, themselves advocates of a “deist” world view that subordinated religious traditions to the Enlightenment findings of a lawful, scientific ordering of the universe, built the “separation of church and state” into their new nation’s founding principles.
Only the most deluded and dishonest can dare to argue that the United States was founded as a “Christian” nation. It was a truly secular experiment, grounded in the History of Philosophy project based in Paris that was the fertile ground from which revolutionary theories of democratic institutions grew in the late 1700s, as Jonathan Israel of Princeton University thoroughly documented in his Democratic Enlightenment and other exhaustive scholarly works.
In the U.S., religious institutions such as those tracing their origins to the Separatists breaking from the Church of England, riding aboard to the Mayflower to colonize New England, also proliferated in the U.S. during the 19th century, becoming “abolitionist” leaders of a moral fight against slavery and subsequently to stand more generally against the exploitation of the downtrodden, supporting suffrage for women and evolving as a solid moral foundation for the modern civil rights and anti-poverty movements.
The real story of the last 40 years of the American religious landscape has not only been a “coup” by elitist ruling class operatives to turn a superstition-grounded religious fundamentalism into a right wing political battering ram. It has also been the stunning silence by the more mainstream and progressive religious institutions in the face of this “coup.”
Perhaps the silence can be explained by the fact so many of the mainstream churches were sufficiently infiltrated by the ruling classes, themselves, as to cause their extraordinary passivity.
But that’s been uneven in the last decade, when promising signs began appearing by those who have a much truer claim on concepts of “morality” than the right wing churches.
Dana Milbank’s recent column in The Washington Post is one of the few that has dared use the term, “morality,” against the right wing. Entitled “‘Immoral’ Conservatism,” it documented how immoral the right wing’s opposition to an extension of unemployment insurance and Medicaid truly is.
He cited a City University of New York study calculating that opposition by states to the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act will result in between 7,115 and 17,104 more American citizens and children dying. Dying!
“Allowing people to die to advance a political philosophy isn’t just bad policy. It’s immoral,” he concluded.
That’s putting it mildly. It’s long overdue for the moral high ground, as such, to be reclaimed by reasonable Americans. But they’re going to have to really fight for it.