Ever since Jimmy Carter made popular the concept of appealing to the faithful for votes during the late seventies, he helped institutionalize, at the very least, the obligation for politicians to postscript every statement with ‘God bless America’, or some variation.  Ironically, Mr. Carter probably represents by contrast the more sedate, moderate and rational category of believer than most, but again only by contrast.

Between then and now, there have been several iterations of governance that have embraced and courted the most extreme elements of Christian fundamentalism for support and the results, predictably, have not been good.  In theory, the United States maintain a separation between church and state via the First Amendment.  In practice, however, is this true?  If not, what are the perils?

First, is there a separation between church and state?  Increasingly, the separation is mostly rhetorical.  Frank Schaeffer, a pioneer of America’s religious right during the seventies and eighties, has more recently done an about-face on the movement he helped create.  He soberly realized the real world implications of weaving together faith and politics when the most extreme elements of the religious right began to exercise real control within the political process.  By the time George W. Bush arrived, the separation promised in the constitution seemed quaint and utterly out of step with current political fashion.  The evolving difference perhaps was while earlier politicians cynically exploited the evangelical movement for political gain, current politicians were part of this movement.

Going forward, the lines have become even more blurred.  For instance Sarah Palin and her contemporaries are even more extreme, openly contemptuous of science and quite willing to taxonomize the American population into real and unreal depending on their systems of belief.  If one charts the trends, the separation between church and state is like a levee in the process of losing its’ structural integrity.

Second, what are the perils?  Aside from pushing back the clock on the various social gains achieved over the past forty years or so, the obvious worry is a practical abandonment of science, reason and logic as the founding concepts necessary to solve the manifest issues facing us all.  For a true believer, however, there is no need to court reason since some beliefs are simply self-justifying.

More and more, social and political fashion dictates that beliefs are more important than facts, and facts are simply those things you believe.  If this trend continues, a fully consummated marriage of belief and power will serve no one’s interest, including those who wish to benefit.

Unfortunately since the full range of human behavior is always on the table, it’s only our well-informed and progressively civilized decisions that may give us a chance for meaningful survival.

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