Strange Gods: The Religious Right's Offensive Response To The Tragedy In Connecticut
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 02:14:01 PM EST

As soon as I heard about Friday's horrific school shootings in Newtown, Conn., I knew it would only be a matter of time before some Religious Right extremist blamed it on the lack of mandatory prayer in public schools.

It didn't take long. First out of the crazy box was former Arkansas governor and erstwhile presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

"We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools," Huckabee said during an appearance on the Fox News Channel. "Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?"

He added, "We've made it a place where we don't want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability -- that we're not just going to have be accountable to the police if they catch us, but one day we stand before, you know, a holy God in judgment. If we don't believe that, then we don't fear that."

Not to be left out of the Nitwit Sweepstakes, the always-offensive Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association quickly chimed in with this gem: "You know the question's gonna come up, where was God? I thought God cared about the little children, God protected the little children. Where was God when all this went down? And here's the bottom line: God is not gonna go where he's not wanted."

Fischer continued, "Now we have spent, since 1962 - this, we're 50 years into this now - we  have spent 50 years telling God to get lost, telling God, we do not want you in our schools, we don't want to pray to you in our schools, we don't want to pray to you before football games, we don't want to pray to you at graduation, we don't want anyone talking about you in a graduation speech. We've kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, `Hey I'll be glad to protect your children, but you've gotta invite me back into your world first. I'm not gonna go where I'm not wanted. I am a gentleman.'"

People sometimes ask me why Americans United is so adamant about keeping organized, school-sponsored forms of prayer and religious worship out of public education. On occasion I encounter those who assert, "What's the harm in a little prayer or talk about God? Isn't it good for kids?"

Huckabee and Fischer are walking examples of the harm. Remember, as soon as we start talking about official prayer in public schools, we also start talking about which religion, what prayer and whose God. The God that gets talked about or promoted in your school could easily be the God that is worshipped by people like Huckabee and Fischer.

Personally, I have no use for the God of the Religious Right - and I don't think I'm alone there. The God of the Religious Right allows 20 children and eight adults to die in a school because he's in a snit over his alleged expulsion from public education.

The God of the Religious Right is mean, petty, vindictive and not very ethical. The God of the Religious Right is all hate and retribution, with no love and acceptance. The God of the Religious Right, in my opinion, is not worthy of our worship.

This is America, and supporters of the Religious Right are free to worship that God. Members of that movement are free to approach that God in fear - never joy - as is their wont. But let's be clear: They want to use our public schools, a taxpayer-supported institution that serves children of many faiths and philosophies, to push that God on your children, mine and everyone else's. They have no right to do that.

The good news is that millions of Americans reject the God of the Religious Right.  They reject a God based on fear, division, violence and retribution. The God that many Americans worship is so far removed from the God of the Religious Right that we can't paper over the difference by pretending it's a minor theological tiff and that, at the end of the day, most Americans worship the same deity.

No. The entity Huckabee, Fischer and their allies tremble before and beseech is so alien to most of the devoutly religious people I know that they would not even recognize it as God. 

(Millions of Americans also know that in the wake of a tragedy like this, the proper response is  words that offer comfort, not divisive displays of ignorance.)

So let us make no mistake: When Huckabee, Fischer and their allies speak of bringing church and state closer together or removing a few bricks from the church-state wall to allow "a little religion" into our schools, this is the God they would set loose. This is the God they would preference by law. This is the God they would force you to support. This is the God they would foist onto your children.

If this isn't your God, or if you're one of the many Americans who recognize no God, you must speak out against offensive Religious Right foghorns like Huckabee and Fischer. You must challenge those who exploit sorrow for political gain.

And you need to stand up for the one thing that keeps the God of the Religious Right from becoming the government's favorite: the wall of separation between church and state.

I live less than a handful of miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. My girlfriend went to work this morning dreading finding out that some of her colleagues' clients might have been among the casualties; her agency services many families in Newtown. The events of last weekend will cast a permanent pall over not only those directly affected, but across the community as a whole. Yet these pieces of human filth spray this toxic message without heed to how they insult the memory of innocent kids. And they do it in ignorance of how their bile turns a just and loving God into a dismal, mocking torturer of His creation. You are right that these people are doing huge harm to the cause of mainstream religion. At the same time they say stuff like this, they also sit around bemoaning the state of religion in the country. When over half of the children of fundamentalists are leaving the church when they're grown, it's clear that the charismatic movement is in deep trouble. I couldn't be happier. But what's amazing is that these guys bemoan the state of religion and have no clue that their venomous rhetoric is the cause of the decline in religion. Their vision of God rightly turns off potential believers that aren't already brainwashed into their bizarre beliefs. I am appalled, but not surprised, that these idiots are exploiting the tragedy. They're bad enough, but I have already seen reports that the cult of Scientology is sending its "Volunteer Ministers" to the scene, using bogus "touch assist" quack healing to try to assuage pain, and handing out idiotic booklets that are thinly veiled recruiting efforts. They'll soon claim that psychiatric medication is the cause of this tragedy. And as if all of this isn't bad enough, there are reports that the Westboro Baptist Church is on the way, to protest at the funerals. That'll make these crazies seem mild by comparisons. It's time for a line in the sand, for the forces of sanity and decency to push back against the forces of bigotry and this medieval punitive theology that should stay buried in the mists of time. If not now, when?

by Brent on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 06:52:26 PM EST
- when you choose to characterize your chosen opponents as "human filth", aren't you helping to perpetuate the cycle of "venomous rhetoric" that you decry ? And who are these "pieces of human filth" you refer to ? By not assigning names, you seem to be casting wide aspersions over an entire social and political movement. That would seem to be hate speech, and if you had assigned names, your characterization would have been even more venomous.

Yes, I agree that evangelizing efforts which might try to capitalize on this tragedy would be risible. But rhetoric that compares our fellow human beings to excrement has an horrific historical legacy. As a forum, Talk To Action tries to avoid this sort of unnecessarily hateful and polarizing rhetoric, and I believe that critics of the would-be Christian theocratic, or theonomic, movement - which at its worst dehumanizes its chosen enemies - can do better than the movement they oppose. Can anger turn towards love ? I certainly hope so.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 09:02:34 PM EST

It's very tempting to want to respond in kind to the insults we get, but you're right, we can't do this.

by khughes1963 on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 09:29:23 AM EST

What strikes me most about Huckabee's and Fischer's statements is the pettiness -- and as Mr. Boston says, the pettiness of the God they worship.  It is clear that these men -- and other men and women who agree with them -- are desperate to coerce others to appease what they view as an angry and vengeful God with the emotional age of a junior high school girl having a tantrum about glitter nail polish.  If they indeed view themselves as acolytes of such a vengeful and petty diety, the must live in a very, very, dark and scary emotional place themselves.

by coralsea on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 07:23:31 PM EST
Huckabee's and Fischer's concept of God reflects their own pettiness, fear and anger. They do live in a very "dark and scary emotional place," and they think everyone should live there also.

by khughes1963 on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 09:27:33 AM EST

Over on Daily Kos, TTA reader Christian Dem in NC pointed out that in support of Huckabee and Fischer, Charisma news editor Jennifer LeClaire wrote:

In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court examined a 22-word prayer children used to acknowledge God. That prayer went like this: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country."

It's a simple, put powerful prayer that I believe invoked God's protection over schools and inspired morality in the hearts of a generations. Removing prayer from schools has spawned a well-documented impact on our educational system and on the broader society.

This is important because it reflects the NAR (and more general Word-Faith) belief that words have magical power.  Prayers aren't requests of the heart as most mainline Christians believe, but are incantations meant to elicit a response from God (one that they apparently have the means to control via words BTW).  It's not important that students, teachers, or anyone else actually believe what they are saying, but in the NAR dualist world, these magic words are the only things keeping evil at bay.  Within this worldview, when people stop saying the magic words, no God, and you are completely exposed to the evil works of Satan.  Conversely, if you get a critical mass to say the magic words, the "kingdom" will descend to earth.

Huckabee and Fischer are really "fundamentalists" in a general sense, and not part of the NAR movement, but as dominionists they too appear to buy into this belief at least in part.  It's not the heart of the individual believers (who believe in the God of their choice--or not--and the faith of their choice of their own free will) but the magic words that keep God in the schools or wherever.

I heard this screed in church this weekend myself (I'm very close to going "church shopping" again because the AFA dominionist crap has now fully infiltrated our current church, where when we joined it hadn't) and my response was that (1) the First Amendment doesn't keep anyone from praying or practicing the faith of their choice and (2) if as a Christian I believe that God lives in my heart then God is wherever I go or others go... so don't tell me that God wasn't there.  My goodness, the heroism of those teachers and administrators says it all to me.  They had a lockdown plan and executed it perfectly in horrific circumstances, to the point where several of them sacrificed their own lives for those children.  In my faith, Jesus laid his life down for others too.  I see a whole lot more of that in those teachers than in the screeds of Huckabee and Fischer.  What have they sacrificed?

And I also ask them then, who is responsible for God supposedly leaving the baaad public school systems?  Who has been leading the exodus from public schools so that the only ones left are what dominionist leaders consider the "other"?

This is the slippery slope they've taken what seems like the majority of American Christians down, at least Protestants... scary since the NAR at least believes the "rapture" is of the evil ones, and the "immortalized" in their Bizarro Christ will be the ones who will take them out.

And any innocents that are in the way... well it is because "God" left the schools.  In an exodus the dominionist American church orchestrated.

They should be ashamed.  I'm certainly ashamed to be a part of the American church these days.

by ulyankee on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 10:15:19 AM EST

This may have been pointed out before, but back in 1927 when 'God was still in our public schools' there was the Bath (MI) Schoolhouse bombing which killed a total of 46 people (38 children).

And 20th century American history as pertains to education is full of bigotry, denying education to blacks, sometimes horrific corporeal punishment... in short, the good old days weren't always good.

The theocratic right is trying to explain why God permits evil, and their explanation that it's because children are no longer captive to forced christian prayer seems to be the best they can come up with. It is a woefully inadequate explanation, that only is accepted by the credulous people who already inhabit the right wing bubble.

by COinMS on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 10:47:03 AM EST

One of my professors is working at the Dozier School for Boys site in north Florida - it's got parts of the state in an uproar and she's in the news on a regular basis.  They've already found that a lot more boys died and were buried there than suggested by records (because of the number of burials found) and that was just one cemetery - there are reports of a second, maybe larger cemetery, and there are a lot of survivors (literally and many seem to think of themselves in that way) who have talked about the rampant abuse that they went through or observed (including seeing other boys being killed).

I have vague memories of school shootings with multiple victims from the 60s and 70s... in one case the shooter had been severely bullied and snapped - and I felt sympathy for him although I disagreed with what he did, because I knew how bad it could get.

I'd also add that it wasn't until 1980 that we had any rights at all, and several of my elders have said that they were told to try to pass as white or black (and never mention that they were American Indian), because otherwise they wouldn't be able to go to school at all.  Even now Native American children are regularly reporting being bullied because of race - from both students and teachers.

There is a long history of problems with the school systems... both the sort of stuff like at Dozier and atrocities like what just happened (and the bombing you mentioned).  It's something beyond the schools, however, because terrorism has been in most countries for generations (I suspect it's tied to authoritarian power structures and ideology).  I hope that they do a study on the train of thought that leads to these atrocities, so maybe we can prevent them in the first place.

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 04:28:19 PM EST

and surprise surprise westboro baptist church is blaming it on marriage equality laws. The gays make the best scapegoat for religionists.

by PastorJennifer on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 01:11:18 PM EST
are not representative of even conservative Christians, let alone the many Christians who institutionally or individually support marriage equality.

Westboro Baptist is both horrible and outrageous and almost singular in being despicable.

So please get a clue "PastorJennifer."

This site is not for smearing people whether they are religious or non-religious. People have been banned for this kind of behavior in obvious violation of the terms of service and the site guidelines.  There will not be another warning.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 03:26:19 PM EST

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