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Dominion and peril in U.S. politics

| Wednesday, March 25, 2015

On Monday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas announced his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He is the first major candidate to officially enter next year’s race. This column isn’t about 2016, though. It’s hardly about Ted Cruz. It’s almost about where Senator Cruz made his announcement — Liberty University, founded by Pastor Jerry “the gays caused 9/11” Falwell — but not quite. Really, it’s about religion in politics.

This also isn’t a column about Ted Cruz’s chances for the nomination. He may not be the party favorite, but he’s a high-profile senator with an active base in the “religious right.” He’s certainly relevant enough for us to be alarmed by his rhetoric and his popularity. I’m not going to tell you not to vote for him, since that would imply my asking you to vote for someone else — and I certainly won’t be supporting Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton or anyone else thrown into the ring by the economic elite. I just want to tell you why you should be alarmed.

Ted Cruz is a dominionist, and he’s far from alone. Dominionism holds that Christians should work towards a country where the government is run according to the principles of their religion. It’s effectively Sharia law for Christians. This doctrine rears its ugly head every time someone makes a political argument that invokes religion, however seemingly harmless.

The dominionist point of view generally comes with two arguments. The first is that the United States is a Christian nation that has lost its way; the second is that moving towards Christian governance is the right thing to do. The first is wholly ahistorical. The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents an establishment of religion, with the courts upholding that it was intended as a separation of church and state. The 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, ratified unanimously by the Senate and signed by President John Adams in 1797, explicitly stated, “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” I’m hardly one to make an argument of authority from the Founding Fathers, but the dominionist history is all wrong.

Every time someone invokes religion in a political argument, however, they vindicate the dominionists little by little. The fact is, it’s really unnecessary. If God tells you not to kill, you can still make an argument against murder that doesn’t require someone to share your religion. If you can’t make an argument for a policy without religious appeals, then maybe the policy belongs in your church, not in public governance.

No one is actually arguing for rule by the Bible. In no uncertain terms, the Bible condemns gay men to death. In no uncertain terms, the Bible says that rich men will not go to heaven. Opponents of this like to point to the following claim that all things are possible through God, but that’s hardly an argument unless you apply it to everything. Best to just ignore the rules for all sins, big and small, and still hope to get into heaven, because all things are possible through God. It’s straight denial.

So, what happens is that a religious group will take their holy text, pick around for their preferred morality and declare that they have “the truth” and that their country must heed “the truth” or be struck down by God. That’s what caused 9/11 and Katrina, apparently. Almost invariably, true belief is reserved for the followers, while leaders manipulate the movement for personal gain. The most extreme may not be the majority, but they have so ingratiated themselves into the public sphere for so long that every major candidate of every major party must claim at some point to be guided by their faith, preferably their Christian faith, in their decisions. Where the Constitution bans a legal test of religion for office, religious groups have made one in the court of public opinion. So you either get only those of certain religious beliefs, or you get those willing to lie to get into power. What could go wrong?

History shows that when reactionary groups motivated by religion take power, those who hold different beliefs suffer. Every time you think about bringing faith into politics, think about what would happen to you if a different religious sect won out. Next time you almost draw on religious principles rather than secular values or basic human empathy for a political decision, ask yourself if a theocracy is truly in your favor. Even if you’re comfortably in the Christian majority, ask yourself if you value making up your own mind. If so, don’t think they won’t come for you someday.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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