Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Religious Tolerance:What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

Over the weekend I happened upon a "religious" program, one of the ones usually dedicated to the spreading of conservative politics, but which on presidential weekend, was conservative politics and theocracy to the nth degree.

The guy's remarks went something like this:

The puritans came over on the Mayflower to get away from religious intolerance in the old world, but then were intolerant themselves of religious minorities, such as Roger Williams who was exiled off to Rhode Island to start a new colony of religious dissidents. Later, congregationalists, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Mormons, and other religious minorities came in for their own persecution. Then came intolerance for the atheists and secularists.

So far so good, right? Sounds about accurate.

But then the double kicker: the guy proceeds to say something to the effect that, hey, you know, Christians are always hearing how intolerant they are, but the fact is that even though Christians in America were intolerant towards other factions of Christians and other minorities, these groups eventually became accepted, so that proves how tolerant American Christians are. Or something. But now it's conservative Christians who are facing intolerance from other religions and atheists. Intolerable.

So even though conservative Republicans dominate all three branches of government, and an increasing share of state and local governments as well, and despite the fact that conservative evangelicals are said to comprise 35%-40% of the Republican Party, conservative Christians are under seige in America, afflicted, scorned, hated, chased from their homes, disowned, deprived of their churches and bibles, barred from home-schooling, and imprisoned for their faith.

How, despite all the seeming evidence to the contrary, do claims such as this one find an audience? Like the myth of the "liberal media", the myth of the persecuted conservative Christian grows by leaps and bounds by the minute.

Undoubtedly these myths persist because they are incubated within the realms of very secluded, narrow social groupings and associations, whose members are urged to listen only to approved sources of information, not that many members need the urging. The language and psychology of victimization, which the Right is so normally and loudly condemning of, has been adopted by the Right to aid its organizational cash-flow and its political agenda. The fact that the religious persecution myth is trumpeted from a well-to-do establishment of radio networks and cable television stations aids in this process, and may in fact, suggest a vast over-representation of financially and politically induced paranoia among religious conservatives.

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