Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Gods Must Be Angry or Something

Bill Maher, LA Times, Obama campaign targeted by domestic terrorists

When Bill Maher chose to frame his film Religulous as a call to arms against religion, one would be alarmed if he didn't believe the so-called "other side" just might respond to that call.

But as it turns out, Religulous may not be the only thing Maher has done to inspire the violent ire of religious extremism.

Last night Maher performed at a club in Palm Desert, California where a threat-laden letter containing a white powder had been sent.

"Save the babies" was reportedly written on the front of the envelope, and "kill all Obama supporters" scrawled across the back.

Similar letters were recieved by the Los Angeles Times and at a Barack Obama campaign office in Los Angeles.

As the 2008 United States Presidential Election campaign intensifies with less than a month to go until balloting, it's starting to seem more and more that this campaign is taking on more and more distinct overtones of a religious conflict. Perhaps more than any other presidential campaign in recent history.

Consider the case of Scranton, Pennsylvania, a city so religiously polarized by the campaign that local resident Ann Conway -- an opponent of abortion and of the Iraq war -- mused that "If I do end up voting for Obama, then I’ll go to confession after and tell the priest my sin."

Bishop Joseph Martino, the Bishop of Scranton, has declared that Barack Obama's Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden will be denied communion within his diocese.

“Abortion is the issue this year and every year in every campaign,” Martino has asserted. “Catholics may not turn away from the moral challenge that abortion poses for those who seek to obey God’s command. They are wrong when they assert that abortion does not concern them, or that it is only one of a multitude of issues of equal importance. No, the taking of innocent life is so heinous, so horribly evil, and so absolutely opposite to the law of the Almighty God that abortion must take precedence over every other issue. I repeat. It is the single most important issue confronting not only Catholics, but the entire electorate.”

Canadians are familiar with a few of these religious overtones within our own politics. In Ultramontaine Quebec (long prior to Jean Lesage's Quiet Revolution), it was regarded that "heaven is Bleu and hell is Rogue". The message of this was crystal clear: proper god-fearing Quebeckers would vote for the Conservatives, as voting for the Liberal party was considered blasphemous.

One also recalls that Prime Minister Paul Martin was threatened with the denial of communion over his government's same-sex marriage act.

To pretend that religion and politics can ever be truly and fully separate is utterly naive. Although it offended a great many Canadians, Preston Manning was actually quite wise to note that religious beliefs inevitably will, in one way or another, have an influence on political beliefs.

But there is no doubt that the equation of certain political beliefs with sin has a deeply corrosive influence on both politics and religion. This "crusade" against pro-abortion candidates and commentators is proof of this.

There is no getting around calling the actions of those who sent the letters in question to Maher, the Times and the Obama campaign for what it is: terrorism. The spectre of domestic terrorism, sadly neglected in George W Bush's War on Terror.

Not only is it politically detrimental to equate supporting the "wrong" political candidate as sinful, but religiously detrimental as well: the exploitation of the sacred in the service of the profane. In some extreme cases, as we see with these attacks, they transform the adherents of a faith founded by a man who preached a message of peace from law-abiding citizens into terrorists.

With all good fortune, those who have perpetrated these attacks will pursued and prosecuted to the fullest extent of American law.

But it's important to note that the answer to the corrosive influence of invasive religious fundamentalism is not what Bill Maher himself would advocate -- a public-scale disavowal of religion.

Rather, the answer is for moderates like Ann Conway -- even if Conway herself, her political thinking tinged with the notion of anti-abortion politics as a sin she's willing to bear even if unwillingly, could barely be described as a moderate -- to wake other believers up to the notion that they can keep their politics and their faith.

The answer is for more churches to take a hard line stance against violent anti-abortion activism, and denounce such terrorism for what it really is.

Meanwhile, one should also not overlook that atheist activists such as Bill Maher certainly haven't helped the issue. By seeking to polarize American society against religion, they've made religion as much a political issue as anyone else, but one certainly shouldn't expect them to admit it.

And as we've seen, some of the more deranged among the faithful don't take kindly to it.

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