Imagine the Right’s Religion

The religious right wants to own the table, determine what goes on it and force-feed everyone the same gruel they consume.

For decades I’ve been told by my adversaries in the religious right that they only seek a “place at the table” for their Christian worldview – well, their version of Christianity, that is.

But evidence has mounted recently that what they really want is something else entirely: to own the table, determine what goes on it and force-feed everyone the same gruel they consume.

Consider the outcry over the U.S. Air Force Academy’s decision to alter the Honor Oath cadets take every academic year. It formerly concluded, always, with the phrase “So help me God.”

The problem is that some cadets didn’t want to say a religious oath. Since it makes no sense to force a person to swear an oath that he or she disbelieves, academy officials made the eminently sensible decision to make the God part optional.

Religious right groups immediately went ballistic. The Tupelo, Miss.,-based American Family Association is urging its legion of followers to write to the commandant of the Academy to “preserve religious liberty by defending the oath and recommending the Academy keep the current language intact.”

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins asserted in a radio broadcast that even giving non-believers the option not to say “God” would somehow reflect an “anti-Christian bias.” According to Perkins, making these four words optional would not be “inclusive” since it would not include military personnel like George Washington, whom he claims initiated that phrase. (Washington didn’t do that, but that’s another column.)

Think about this for a moment. How does it protect “religious liberty” in this multi-cultural and multi-religious nation to force all cadets to affirm support for something an increasing number of them do not believe is true?

In fact, isn’t it silly – and perhaps even blasphemous – to demand that newly0minted defenders of the republic lie about their belief in God? This is an “honor code” after all. The pedestal on which to erect a system of moral commitment is probably not perjury. (Nevertheless, two members of Congress have actually introduced legislation to make it illegal for the military to alter such oaths without congressional approval.)

Furthermore, since no one is told they cannot say “So help me God” how does this change to an individual option possibly harm some future military leader who is devout and includes the phrase as she or he is still permitted to do?

Perkins holds a so-called Values Voter Summit every autumn in Washington and has been known to actually have Jewish people on the platform. Does the fact that U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) may bow his head but not pray in the name of Jesus mean that the assembled Christian masses at the conference are suddenly having their rights violated? Person A’s decision to opt out of Person B’s theology in no way lessens Person B’s right to participate.

Our second table-grabber is Sarah Palin. She has returned to the talk-show circuit with a new book called “Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas.” This tome asserts that our nation is at war with Christianity, with the secularist assault on Christmas becoming the bloody Antietam of the conflict.

According to the former governor, one of the many fronts in this anti-yuletide blitzkrieg is the tendency by in-store greeters and advertising executives at certain big box stores to replace “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays.”

Like the oath defenders, Palin seems to assume that a retailer’s failure to affirm a certain aspect of Christianity at every moment is somehow an assault on her faith. The horror she sees in “inclusion” – and her preposterous demand that non-Christians greet people with a religious sentiment alien to them — turns what is good about a diverse culture into some badge of shame.

Tables are especially important in public schools. They should be open to all there. Yet recent news reports from several Southern states have found a breathtaking level of “You are welcome at my table – as long as you’ll pray with me” sentiments from public high school football coaches.

Mark Mariakis of the public Ridgeland High School in Georgia told the Chattanooga Times Free Press, “We as coaches fail if we only teach football, so we try to set an example of how a Christian man handles any situation.”

Another coach boasted about the players he had converted to his faith through a Bible camp, asserting, “I want to win as much as anybody, but if I don’t win a single football game this year I feel successful because of those 21 kids who became Christians. Nothing is more important than that.”

Thus, in spite of numerous court decisions to the contrary, these coaches support official Christian team prayer, as did virtually every respondent to the newspaper’s survey of coaches in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. No fig leaves of “non- proselytizing prayers” or rotation of prayers here; just good old Christian triumphalism every Friday night.

My final example concerns a table that, while privately owned, could be big enough for lots of people – if only its owners had a more charitable vision. According to reports in the Kansas City Star, the Kansas City Rescue Mission has decided not to accept the offer of the Kansas City Atheist Coalition to help with distribution of 2,000 Thanksgiving meals to the poor and elderly.

The Mission apparently decided to include a religious message in this year’s meal boxes, and it was unclear if the atheists would go along with that. It seemed irrelevant anyway, as the Mission made it abundantly clear that it didn’t want the non-believers’ help, calling the partnership a bad fit. And that was the end of any communication.

That struck me as a missed opportunity. I’ll bet that there are more than 2,000 poor and elderly people in the area. Wouldn’t it have been more polite, more decent and more “Christian” even, to call the atheists, tell them what neighborhoods the Christians were not covering and give them some advice about how to serve those who might otherwise go hungry? In other words, shouldn’t the Mission have at least helped the atheists set up their own table?

Alas, to those who are fearful of other beliefs, there can be only one table, one place to sit and one seatmate to converse with. Their world begins and ends in the confines of that tiny table.

I say let a thousand tables bloom. I encourage visiting every one. After all, a person can sometimes gain a whole new perspective by occasionally switching seats.

Image courtesy of Roger H. Goun.

Written by

  • razvedchik1

    I personally believe that there is no supernatural entity. I think religions, at least most, came into being to organise society, to set some rules to follow and to set some standards. Early societies needed some type of cohesion to keep them together and, also, to keep them in line. Religions offered that. But, they got out of hand. How many wars were started in the name of some god? We no longer NEED religion, but people take comfort in it. If one wants to believe, allow him. Funny though, if someone believes in flying saucers or something similar, people would say he’s a crackpot! I’ve had some weird experiences during my flying days, including all kinds of weird stuff, but that’s for another topic. Everyone, enjoy the holidays. Personally, my favourite one is and always has been Hallowe’en

  • greeenmtns

    It’s called Christofascism. It isn’t new, it is dangerous, and it is a form of religious extremism along with it’s counterparts extremist Islam and Zionism. Fundamentalist anything, orthodox anything, extremist anything, is dogmatic, inflexible, and allowed to expand unfettered is dangerous to anyone who does not “cop to the trip.”

  • NancyDL1

    Perusing the comments. what surprised me is that so many atheists seem determined to adopt the most objectionable quality of right-wing orthodoxy: the idea that their faith makes them superior to others and that this feeling of superiority justifies behaving with lack of respect and lack of inclusion to others.

  • Jason Bachand

    Nancy, I’m put off by people displaying smug self-satisfaction, too. It isn’t helpful to assert superiority over other human beings; it certainly won’t change minds.

    However, be careful to distinguish an attack on a person from an attack on ideas. The trouble with many of us is we assume indignity at the very suggestion that our beliefs are wrong. This, too, in unhelpful in civil discourse. Any idea worth its salt will withstand criticism and skeptical scrutiny. If if it fails to meet a certain level of credibility, well, then it deserves dismissal and perhaps ridicule.

    People are entitled to be treated with a basic level of respect. Ideas, however, are wide open to criticism in any society where free speech is valued.

  • oblivionville

    Ever since the war against the “Godless communists”, America, which was once truly pluralistic, has been divided into “believers” and “non-believers”, even (especially) in our politically life.

    Adding “under God” to the already proto-fascist Pledge of Allegiance (what would James Madison say), and adopting “In God We Trust” as the official motto (both events happened in the 1950s), we undermined one of the truly great things about America, that it was okay to believe or not believe, we were all still Americans.

    Our unofficial motto, which is still on the presidential seal, is “e pluribus unum” usually translated as “out of many, one”.

    We should return to that more inclusive vision, as a step away from the endless us-vs-them that has taken over our national life since the cold war, and grows more divisive and damaging to our Republic each day it seems.

  • nkri401

    Example please?

  • graywolf99

    What are you talking about?

  • Catken1

    When have atheists demanded that Christians deny their faith and make an affirmation of the nonexistence of deity in order to swear allegiance to their country or bring business before a legislature? When have atheists tried to take away Christian marriages because they did not choose spouses of whom the atheists approved, on religious grounds? When have atheists pitched fits and thrown tantrums because they were not given exclusive center stage for Festivus and the New Year, but had to share the spotlight with Christians? Etc. Please provide examples.

  • jib

    Having been raised a Greek Orthodox Christian in the Bible Belt during the latter part of the Jim Crow era, I experienced the imposition of Protestant Christian prayer in our public elementary school. There were a few Jewish kids in our school, as well. Culturally, at least, the Greek Orthodox Christians weren’t predisposed to proselytize. Evangelicals are blind to their own zeal because they’re fear an afterlife of eternal damnation of they don’t proselytize. That’s a significant reason why the remnants of Old Dixie argue states rights. They don’t want a federal government standing up for the individual rights of those that don’t want to be enslaved to their zeal.

  • AGuyCommenting


    I believe nkri401 was looking for true examples. Removing under god from the pledge does not insist you are affirming the nonsexistence of your deity.

    Have you ever read the constitution/bill of rights? “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” That should be clear enough.

  • Catken1

    I wasn’t trying to provide examples for Nkri – I was trying to point out that atheists were NOT doing these things. I’m on your side, honest.

  • Rongoklunk

    “Itsthedax” the interesting commenter who writes below (at 7;55am on 23rd) suggests we look up the Terror Management Theory, or TMT. I looked it up at Wikipedia and the terror is the fear of death. And it’s managed by believing in an afterlife up in the clouds with a great skygod. Buy into this and the terror goes away.
    But if you are an atheist you just have to live with the terror. Religion then is just a lie to comfort those who are terrified of the death and oblivion we all face. I guess we atheists knew this anyway. But it beats embracing an imaginary God character instead of facing reality and the obvious truth. Death is death for us as for all living things. No getting away from it. It’s the grim reality we can’t avoid – except with lying to ourselves and denying it. Religion is where you turn to when reality is too terrifying to accept.

  • AGuyCommenting

    Sorry – sorry. I have argued with those insisting the removal of “under God” was an infringement of their rights… so I got triggered.

    I promise to drink more coffee. Have a brilliant Sunday!

  • FailedLiberalPolicies

    christianity is a cancer that infects the GOP.

  • nkri401

    Sorry, I should have made clear that my response was to the OP.

    When I posted, I was right after the OP; I noticed that sometimes a post would show up before my post even after mine was posted already. I guess it’s the new and improved WAPO comments section.

  • nkri401


    And thank you for your indefatigable posts, calling out the more inane view of the fundamentalist types and providing the counter points by points, over and over again.

    Not calling out even the most outrageous self-contradictory ideas seems to give themselves a credit.

  • northernharrier

    Barry Lynn is a good person and is correct about the hypocrisy of the religious right in the U.S. Keep up the good work, Barry, and I’ll keep doing what I can to support you and religious freedom.

  • Mikki Mack

    as the Bible says: “Beware of false prophets” and Wailin’ Palin, Perry, St. Ricky, Mittens, Lyin’ Ryan, Cruz, Rubio and the rest will have to answer to a higher power if not here on earth then elsewhere

  • Mikki Mack

    What these religious fundamentalists and extremists seem to forget: Allah is the Arabic word for God and Islam is an offshoot from the same beliefs as Jews and Christians. These far right religious ppl seem to think that Allah is some strange entity that Muslims pray to

  • Catken1

    Thanks. I just like arguing, myself. :^)

  • itsthedax

    “Cowards die many times before their deaths;
    The valiant never taste of death but once.
    Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
    It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
    Seeing that death, a necessary end,
    Will come when it will come.”

    William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar

  • homer4

    Most religious people don’t really believe in heaven anyways. If they did, they would welcome death instead of praising their god for saving them in life-threatening situations.

  • sky3ler

    Not Christianity, but their remaking it to suit their own purposes.

  • nkri401

    “…terror is the fear of death.”

    Why does anyone fear death? Is it because the process of dying could be painful? Is it the fear of going to hell?
    If the process of death was painless and that there would be nothing to be afraid afterward (no hell), would you be less afraid of death? Are you less afraid of death if you are older and have grown children that will keep your legacy (lineage) going?

    Or is it simply a mechanism to keep an animal alive (fear of death keeps you alive) until it has procreated? The prime directive. In other word, all the animals that did not fear death, died pretty quickly (preyed, injury) before it could procreate. Is the fear of death really fear of being eaten by a predator?

    So much to ponder, alas, so little time.

  • nkri401

    If I may, ” Allah is the Arabic word for (the same Judeo-Christian) God…”; as opposed to Parabrahman, a Hindu God and no relation to Allah/Christian God at all, as Zeus was a Greek God, also no relation to Allah…

  • ktrav

    I have family in Georgia. They tell me that the pressure to be in the born-again camp is overwhelming in every area – school (all levels), work, socially. That mirrors the experience I had in Utah. If you weren’t in the predominant religion, you were nothing.

    Sometimes it’s stunning how backward and ugly this country can be.

  • segarider

    I have always lived in Georgia and your family is correct. Unless one lives in Metro Atlanta or Athens, Georgia it is oppressively “Christian”. So much so that I finally sent my daughter to boarding school in MI so she would not be oppressed by “Christian values” (whatever the hell that is) in public school, at after-school and every extra-curricular activity. I like rural life just not the narrow-minded religious hypocrisy of it in the South.

  • segarider

    So true. Christians are some of the most repressed and fearful people around which is, I believe, why they are so easily manipulated and controlled.

  • Gene Mistatwoeleven Minter

    You people complain about everyone with a religion until your damn neighborhood or school get shot up. Either ur praying to fit in or praying all together…always curse the christian and if these foreign people don’t like what’s involving God don’t come to America but noooo they understand money can but omission in congress and courts. If i can’t swim and don’t wanna swim don’t be a lifeguard. If you don’t like black folks don’t go to a black club. If you hate God and have no God don’t go to church nor join USAFA.

  • Rubedoo Doo

    Get rid of it altogether. Congress is without power to enact a law on religious grounds.

  • leibowde84

    See … this is what the right refuses to admit. That there are plenty of communities that pressure people into religious belief or community.

  • nkri401

    My take is that the right (any) fundamentalist doesn’t see anything wrong to pressure people to join, after all it’s for their own good.

  • Vito Nose

    Palin’s “Who Stole Christmas” motif, obviously, is a crass attempt to make money, and at the same time, contribute to the building of a native American fascist movement under the auspices of “dominionist” Christianity, the brand promoted by the subversive elements at the Air Force Academy. Two birds with one stone!

  • Vito Nose

    believing is belonging

  • Vito Nose

    “If you hate God and have no God don’t go to church nor join USAFA.”

    The USAFA isn’t convered by the 1st Amendment?

  • dotsie01

    I cannot, for the life of me, understand why Sarah Palin is so relevant. She is not the brightest bulb on the proverbial cancelled-Christmas tree, hates you if you have even looked at a thumbnail photo of the President, and to me, is just bat guano nuts. She is spiteful, hateful, and doesn’t have a good working idea as to how government functions. You know, she would go away if everyone ignored her…and that includes the WP and me writing this comment…