February 27, 2005

An Unhealthy Marriage: Conservatism & Religious Fundamentalism

I have often commented that religious fundamentalism is antithetical to true conservative principles, and that the tension is growing by the day. I want to use an exchange I had with Tim Graham, the Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center (the largest media watchdog group in the country), to elaborate on this point.

On Tuesday the 21st I was listening to a program on the fate of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) on my favorite radio show OnPoint. A large segment of the program was dedicated to the controversy surrounding the program “Postcards from Buster,” which was pulled from the air after Margaret Spellings (the soon-to-be Secretary of Education) sent a letter to PBS stating that the program was unacceptable since some of the children in the show had lesbian parents. Ms. Spellings even went as far as to request that PBS refund the amount of money that it cost to produce the show to the Federal government. In the episode in question the show focused on the production of maple syrup and the two mothers were entirely in the background; no gay themes were discussed.

In the middle of the panel discussion Mr. Tim Graham, a self-proclaimed “conservative,” angrily condemned PBS for trying to expose American children to gay lifestyles. His primary justification was that Americans overwhelming oppose gay marriage. I was so appalled by his irrational and ignorant statements that I sent him an email. Here are the highlights:

Mr. Graham,

1. To say that somehow it's wrong to expose children to lesbians is to say it's wrong to expose children to a large segment of the American population- both Democrats and Republicans- your statement is simply bigotry- period- and don't reply that the "majority" is against gay marriage since that has absolutely no bearing on the issue- lesbians aren't married in Vermont, first of all, and second, most Americans do believe in equal rights for gays- even if they didn't that still wouldn't matter- the majority doesn't get to tyrannize the minority in our great country

2. It blows me away that you "conservatives" (I use quotes because true conservatives are not bigots and actually believe in personal freedom) think it's so bad to show kids with loving gay parents when there is so much other crap kids view that is so extremely destructive- you all hate gays- it's that simple- in a free country that's your option but please keep your hatred to yourself- the irony is that hatred and prejudice are the worst things for kids and it's exactly what you all teach them

Let me candidly admit that this note was sent off in a fit of frustration and if I had to do it over I might tone it down a little. That being said, I wouldn’t change the essential message. Ok, so here’s what Mr. Graham had to say in reply; the subject of the message was “I don’t hate gays. I hate sin.”

We are all sinners. The Bible is very clear that homosexuality is a sin. It is not "just another lifestyle." We will not keep that message to ourselves in this free country. We will teach our children that Jesus died for them to free them from sin. But if they choose sin, wallow in it, declare "pride" in it, they will not see Heaven. If I have love for my fellow man, I will help him to Heaven. That's not "hate speech," friend.

So there you have it. Mr. Graham is dutifully following the Bible (at least extremely select passages), and is doing his “fellow man” a favor by condemning them so that their souls can be saved.

With friends like these…..

(A disclaimer: in my reply to Mr. Graham’s reply I expressed some additional frustration and compared religious fundamentalism in America to a group in Afghanistan that we are still fighting. In all likelihood, on an individual level Mr. Graham is a nice guy who I could sit down, watch a game with, and drink a beer. The same can be said for most people whose views I find abhorrent, but the point is that their amiability is largely irrelevant; they’re trying to influence national policy in ways that are discriminatory and oppressive and must be vigorously opposed.)

Unfortunately, I think it’s fair to say that many prominent conservatives have “looked the other war” while the Republican Party has increasingly catered to religious fundamentalists such as Mr. Graham, and I dare say, that many of them are probably very uncomfortable with this union. They have remained silent and put their consciences in check largely due to pragmatism; after all, the GOP strategy has been extremely effective at winning elections lately.

But I wonder what those who are truly committed to conservative principles have really gained. Although the Bush administration has cut taxes, they have run up record deficits and vastly increased the scope of government, all the while catering to religious groups who want to impose their narrow views of morality on the rest of us through coercive means. One day they attack evolution, the next a woman’s reproductive freedom, then it’s onto “smut” in the media (except violence of course), and then the “gay agenda” (that liberal conspiracy that says gay people should be treated equally).

Maybe call me overly optimistic, but I sense that the discomfort within the ranks of the true conservatives is growing. There is only so long a person who is committed to individual liberty can stand by while the party that represents them tries to deny people rights and discriminate against large segments of the population. Again, call me a wishful thinker, but I think there is a big opening for moderate Republicans, those who are socially liberal and lean more towards the libertarian end of things, who are also for limited government, to make great strides in the future. After all, true conservative principles lead to many things liberals would love, such as an end to corporate welfare and environmentally destructive subsidies, as well as equal rights for gays.

Jason Scorse