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Jewish World Review March 7, 2000/ 30 Adar I, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Hope and pray that religion remains a force in politics -- THAT WHIRLING DERVISH John McCain has captured headlines for depicting Governor Bush as anti-Catholic. I strain to find the insult. Protestants being anti-Catholic was Martin Luther's whole point. Doctrinal disagreements, however, which is what the Bob Jones University folks harbor, are different from hate and bigotry. The so-called religious right joins its Catholic friends for a formidable and united force on abortion. Original sin debates continue, but Protestants and Catholics are one on present-day sin.

Senator Skywalker made his divisive remarks, in both a political and religious sense, to curry favor with Catholics who have voted with the presidential winner since 1972. Generally, however, bigotry charges involve a downtrodden group. Who doesn't love a Catholic? The world's largest religion can hardly be victimized by a small Southern college whose name brings the trading of used Malibus to mind. The anti-Catholic furor over the Bush Bob Jones visit demonstrates the media's need for a reality check in its Luke McCain worship.

The intergalactic candidate did not stop with charges of bigotry. Nay, it was a busy week for the motor mouth of the Straight Talk Express. In addition to pointing out the bunions on Neve Campbell's feet while courting the anti-Letterman/Leno vote, Mr. McCain denounced Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as evil equivalent extremists to Louis Farrakham and Al Sharpton. McCain's little buddy Gary Bauer (R2D2?) jumped about like Rumpelstiltskin for he endorsed this Christian right basher. Fundraising for Bauer's Family Research Council could be tough.

Farrakham advocates abolishing the white race and Al Sharpton falsifies criminal charges. Are these acts equivalent to the Falwell and Robertson protests against Disney World? "Extreme" needs more precision in definition.

A glimpse under the Democrats' tent reveals no dearth of "extremes." People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) boasts the following activism: David Guthartz serves as executive director of New York's Ferret's Rights Advocacy and harasses Rudy Giuliani staff members at 3 AM to protest ferrets' treatment in the Big Apple (Mr. Giuliani has suggested both a life and psychoanalysis for Mr. Guthartz, but has yet to propose any new ferret programs (Hillary! plans a stealth attack on this void in socialism)); PETA members have destroyed laboratories and medical research and sought injunctions against both the federal government and recipients of federal grants that involve animal-based research; PETA protested the dismissal of charges against a camper who feared for his family's safety and shot a wolf in their camping grounds. PETA maligned the camper's "poor judgment;" Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, did not have a Bible in his little bomb-building cabin in the woods he had Al Gore's Earth in the Balance, complete with underlined passages; ecoterrorists caused $2 million in damages and $9 million in lost sales in downtown Seattle during the WTO meetings and set ablaze a mountain-top ski resort in Colorado.

Falwell cautioned that the Teletubbie with the purse might be gay. This is extreme evil?

Mr. McCain called the religious right "agents of intolerance." Who banned the ten commandments from schools and other public places? Who has opposed education reform because vouchers are used for parochial schools?

Who has banned protestors from outside abortion clinics and used trumped-up racketeering charges against such protestors? Who censored John Rocker but embraced dung on the Virgin Mary as art, complete with public funding? Not the Christian right. Mr. McCain, like most demagogues, has a definition bias.

Mr. McCain knows as little about the role of religion in politics as he does about economics, the iron triangle and education. Historically, religious leaders have served as moral checks and balances for complacent politicians. Slavery would have been banished by ministers had the economics of cotton and the politicians beholden to that interest not interfered.

Bible-thumping ministers were gun runners for the anti-slavery insurrections in Kansas and elsewhere. Quakers began the underground railroad in 1780. And it was the Rev. Martin Luther King demanding the front of the bus.

Religious leaders got the Pilgrims to pack their bags and charter a boat. Religious leaders protested industrial revolution child labor. Religious groups founded and operated the hospitals that brought health care to the masses. Today they fight the infanticide by partial-birth abortion.

Do religious leaders make people uncomfortable? They cannot do their jobs unless they do. Introspection on life and freedom is agonizing. But driving away those who prick the conscience is an expedient declaration of moral bankruptcy.

Mr. McCain does not attack the true agents of intolerance or extremism, indeed, he panders to them with a red herring sacrifice of his own party. Religion brings morality to politics. Drive it from public discourse and you lose the voice of reform, one that is unwavering, but not extreme. Senator Skywalker should consider Benjamin Franklin's query, "If men are wicked with religion, what would they be without it?" Probably ferret advocates.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings