In 1951 Eric Hoffer authored a book, “The True Believer,” that analyzed and explained the psychological causes of fanaticism, the motives of personalities that give rise to extremist movements, and the similarities between them; whether the movements are religious, political, or reactionary. Hoffer argues that even when their stated goals or values differ, these movements attract the same type of followers and use the same tactics and rhetorical tools as fascists, Nazis, and religious fanatics such as fundamentalist Christians intent on ruling America by Christian theocracy. Hoffer’s book is as prescient today as it was in 1951, and his analysis described many Americans after the terror attacks on 9/11 and teabaggers’ racist revolt over Americans electing an African American man as President.
Hoffer explains that the technique of a fanatical movement aims to infect people with a malady and then offer the movement as a cure, and he explains that these movements begin with a widespread “desire for change” from discontented people who place their locus of control outside their power, such as in god and the bible and who hate the existing culture. Since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the religious right successfully convinced evangelical extremists that they lost their religious liberty and that their only hope was electing Republicans who are furiously passing unconstitutional religious laws as both a cure and to change America back to a Christian nation true believers are certain is the key to their redemption.
The Founding Fathers were aware that America was prone to a takeover by a religious movement filled with true believers and protected the country with a ban on religion interfering with the legislative process. It is that ban that drives Republicans and their evangelical voting bloc’s lust to abolish the Separation Clause of the Constitution. Despite the Constitution’s ban on government forcing religion down the throats of the people, another Republican-led southern state is pushing a law to force prayer on students in public schools. In January it was South Carolina that revived a year-old attempt to require mandatory teacher-led prayers in public schools, and now it is Alabama pushing legislation to force all students at all grade levels to suffer through daily mandated prayer sessions under the guise of learning about Congressional procedures.
The Alabama House Education Policy Committee advanced legislation to order state mandated and sponsored prayer in public schools that will certainly be struck down as patently unconstitutional, but the bill is being pushed by true believers with no regard for the nation’s founding document. The legislation requires that “At the commencement of the first class of each day in all grades in all public schools, the teacher in charge of the room in which such class is held shall, for a period of time not exceeding 15 minutes, instruct the class in the formal procedures followed by the United States Congress. The study shall include a reading verbatim of one of the opening prayers given by the House or Senate Chaplain or a guest member of the clergy at the beginning of a meeting of the House of Representatives or the Senate.”
Now, it is unclear how a mathematics, science, or physical education teacher will afford the time to abandon the regular required curriculum in their field to spend 15 minutes instructing their classes on formal congressional procedures, but that is obviously not the point of the religious legislation. The wording of the legislation makes its purpose clear that school teachers will be forced, under fear of losing their jobs, to conduct forced prayers to all students under the guise of instruction about formal congressional procedures. Actually, it is highly likely that the United States Congress allowing prayers at the beginning of meetings is state sponsored religion, but true believers in Congress will never address the unconstitutionality of the practice. That is the problem with true believers; they have no qualms disregarding the Constitution they claim to love and forcing their beliefs on everyone and claim it is their religious freedom protected by the First Amendment.
There is a flawed belief among fanatical religious conservatives demanding the people accept domination by the religious right that America veered away from its biblical founding and needs the religious right to fight to bring the nation back under the purview of Christianity. In fact, disgraced Republican Tom DeLay explained that America lost its way when “we stopped realizing that God created this nation, that He wrote the Constitution, that it’s based on biblical principles, and we allowed those that don’t believe in those things to keep pushing us… away from the government.” DeLay’s remarks are succor to true believers who demand the nation return to its “Christian roots” and return to government by bible. DeLay continued that if more fundamentalist extremists would have opposed the Constitution’s Separation Clause and “fought for our values,” that the bible would be the “still be” the law of the land. DeLay said he beseeches his god every day “for an awakening in this country, and I think it’s coming.”
There is a tendency among most Americans to disregard the preponderance of religious edicts being passed in Republican state legislatures as harmless experiments to test the Constitution, but for the true believers passing and supporting biblical laws it is not an experiment. A couple of days ago David Harris Gershon penned a thoughtful article discussing the demise of the religious right’s impact on America due to the courts striking down bans on same-sex marriage as well as Kansas, and now Arizona, abandoning legislation legalizing discrimination borne of religious liberty. However, there are increasing reports of states passing, or proposing, laws that ban teaching science or restrict access to abortion services and they are emboldened by true believers that own corporations claiming religion gives them the right to ban contraception coverage in health plans. It is true that some Republicans support religion by government mandate to garner electoral support, but the unfortunate truth is there are as many Christian true believers in state legislatures and Congress than representatives who embrace the Constitution’s ban on religion imposing on the government.
It does not matter if it is legislating prayer in public schools, teaching the bible creation story as science, or legislating legal discrimination under the guise of religious liberty; the religious right will never stop attempting to rule by theocracy. It is noteworthy that the highest court in the land has struck down attempts to force prayer on students, teach creationism in public schools, and discriminate against gays and still, religious fanatics will not be dissuaded from their biblical mandate “to make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:9) the religious right is attempting to fulfill by legislation regardless their efforts are blatantly unconstitutional.
Many Americans fail to realize that true believers, particularly religious true believers, are convinced it is their mandate from god to transform America into a religious state with forced compliance to biblical edicts. There is a strongly-held belief among evangelicals, and Republicans perpetuate the idea, that there is a war on Christianity because the religious right is prohibited by the Constitution from imposing their beliefs on the people. Americans must understand that until there is rigorous response to the religious right’s war on the Constitution, their relentless attacks will continue including passing legislation teaching creationism as science, legalizing discrimination against gays, and mandating public school teachers force Christian prayers on our children.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.