BY MARIE CASTLE (PUBLISHED 2013 BY SEE SHARP PRESS, TUCSON AZ. ISBN: 978-1-937276-47-8) 235 pages
As a former co-president of a large atheist organization, I have long been involved in examining the threat posed by the Radical Religious Right (RRR) to our freedoms and civil liberties. I have read numerous books on the subject, most of them quite good in (sometimes) vastly different ways. I subscribe to numerous free thought periodicals and newsletters. So I can say with confidence that the issues involved are hardly new to me. Yet conspicuously absent from most of these books is any kind of detailed strategy on how to fight the RRR.
That is why reading this book hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. Marie Alena Castle has produced a work that is at once eminently readable, breathtaking in its scope, and frightening in its portents for the future of these United States if the American people do not wake up from their self-imposed intellectual and moral slumber. Culture Wars may be the single most important book currently available illustrating today’s political/cultural environment and its increasingly religious character, which in its breadth is truly frightening. What makes it particularly invaluable is that it provides us with methods to combat the RRR on all fronts. It is no exaggeration to state that radical religion has all but taken over the Republican party and intimidated the Democratic party to such an extent that no leading politician dares to stand up for individual rights and expose the threat the RRR poses to us all.
The first thing that must be mentioned is that few atheist organizations are doing what they are supposed to be doing, namely fighting religious based laws. Most of these groups tend to focus on having monthly meetings where members congratulate themselves on being free of religion. Yet whether they realize it or not, nobody here in these United States is free of religion. Certainly not when you realize the extent that Christian fundamentalism has become entrenched in our laws. Castle’s book is the only one currently available that addresses the most fundamental problems facing America today and how religiously-based laws are the cornerstone of a burgeoning new Christian theocracy.
It is also extremely alarming that none of the leading atheist/freethought publishers and organizations promoted or even reviewed this book. This leads to a most discomforting realization, namely that many of these organizations are, whether they realize it or not, aiding and abetting the religious fundamentalists by refusing to use any material that points out the real dangers religion poses to our society and the strategies necessary to defeat them. Apparently, such groups are more concerned with empire-building than with actually doing something about these dangers. After all, the laws Castle discussesare based on religion and therefore unconstitutional. Apparently, these freethought groups are too afraid to tackle the real problem head-on, thinking it’s too big and the RRR cannot be defeated. It’s much easier for them to gripe about individual issues such as “god” on our money or prayer at some high school graduation. Castle sent copies of her work to many of these organizations; most of them refused to review it and those that did did so in a very sparse manner. One can only ask: what is going on here? Culture Wars is well-written, factual and a long-overdue antidote to the political and social malaise that is ruining our country at every level, from the federal and state levels down to local politics. If the leaders in the free thought community aren’t concerned enough to promote and utilize such a necessary text, they have only themselves to blame as the RRR expands its power and influence.
One of the points Castle makes is that one does not need to be a member of a free thought organization in order to fight the Radical Religious Right. She outlines ways for each of us as individuals to become involved in politics at the local level. While the Republican party is merely the mouthpiece for the RRR, the Democratic party has shown itself devoid of any backbone in fighting fundamentalist religion. Indeed, Barack Obama’s administration has been an absolute disaster for advocates of church/state separation as he has ignored his campaign promises and kept many of his predecessors’ policies intact and even expanded some of them. Yet, if we are to combat the right wing, the Democratic party is the only party currently available that can mount any kind of opposition to the coming theocracy. They must be dealt with precinct by precinct, and it is the responsibility of each individual atheist to make this effort. If we remain invisible, the RRR will have won and everyone else lost.
Castle goes into great detail explaining how the Christian Taliban has intruded more and more into our lives. It is not enough for them that the average American must pay, on average, between fifteen hundred and two thousand dollars per year covering for the tax exempt status enjoyed by religion. The problem has gotten increasingly worse in recent years. To cite one example, the RRR’s hatred of abortion has inspired them to enact legislation all over the country resulting in the closure of countless abortion clinics. Because of this, women seeking to have an abortion must travel far out of their way to exercise their right to choose, guaranteed to them in the landmark 1973 case of Roe V. Wade. The inevitable result has been an increase in the number of unwanted children.
As usual, the Right’s stance on this is contradictory. Castle points out that in Catholic-controlled Latin American countries, abortion is illegal. Despite this, these countries have much higher rates of abortion than the United States. Yet the Right makes no effort to change this, proving beyond any reasonable doubt that their real agenda isn’t in “saving” the unborn, but rather on taking over governments and enacting laws that favor their pre-rational agendas.
Castle covers just about every conceivable area of religious influence in this country today. She goes into detail about how the courts have become packed with fundamentalist judges who either ignore the Constitution or else “interpret” it to dovetail with right-wing political causes. She rightly points out that we as a nation are not governed by the Constitution, but rather by the judicial system that interprets the Constitution.
Other areas covered include the attack on our schools, as RRR legislators,seeking to destroy public education, continue to introduce vouchers and attack discomforting scientific theories such as evolution. Their stated goal is to raise up a generation of children who will never think to question the dogmas and absurdities of fundamentalist religion. It goes without saying that the media always gives uncritical coverage to religion, which Castle covers in great detail. She also discusses how the Right seeks to take over health care. One of the manifestations of this is in their insistence that faith healing is a legitimate form of health care, to be funded as such. The fact that countless children have died due to their parents’ refusal to admit them to a hospital doesn’t concern them in the least. And yet they continue to call themselves pro-life! This isn’t just hypocrisy, it’s criminal.
The turning point seems to have occurred in November 2011 when the Catholic hierarchy suddenly changed its strategy in fighting the culture war. Instead of opposing gay rights, a woman’s right to choose, and other agenda items as moral issues, they began to insist instead that their “liberty” and “religious freedom” was under attack. These have since become the new buzzwords of the RRR. One aspect of this is that civil employees can refuse to do their duties if they claim that doing so violates their religious beliefs. In other words, in this Orwellian view, their freedom depends on their being free to deny the freedom of others.
In past centuries, the Christian church was able to enforce its will through the very real threats of torture and death. Although they do not possess that kind of power today (at least not yet), they have different and very effective strategies at their disposal, including propaganda, political organization, and various legal strategies. Culture Wars, in addition to being an informative text on the rise of the Christian Right Wing, should also serve as a wake up call to any thinking American.
Categories: Book Reviews