We live in interesting times, especially here in America. This election year we have reached a critical point of no return in the ascension of two powerful movements; religious influence over social policy and corporate influence over economic policy. If we fail to push back on both of these this year, it will take generations of repeated struggles and suffering to return to any modicum of sanity.
The religious Right has been on a mission for the last 40 years to dominate and control social policy, and they have largely succeeded. These fanatics relentlessly advance four steps forward toward theocratic policies for every one step they are temporarily forced back. Few can deny that our elected officials at all levels are almost totally consumed with catering to the ceaseless demands of the religious Right – most visibly on abortion but also in almost every aspect of public policy.
At the same time and largely in concert, corporate influence has been quietly gaining ground in leaps and bounds. Our founding fathers were so very terrified of unchecked corporate power that until the mid-1900’s many states still had laws in place to prevent corporate growth from threatening democratic rule. But today, culminating with the ruinous Citizens United decision, corporations now enjoy unprecedented power to buy elections and thereby own a government truly beholden to them. Once they succeed in finally dismantling all Union opposition, their victory will be complete. They will be free to ignore the environment, discard health and labor rights and dismantle all of the hard-fought protections that have safeguarded and enhanced the welfare of the working class for generations.
I hesitate to put forth this term because it sounds so unthinkably far-fetched, but here it is: theocratic oligarchy. To the extent that America has become, and will continue to become, more of a theocratic oligarchy than a democracy, government officials will continue to cater to the religious Right for votes and to the corporate elites for money. They will continue to privatize everything they can siphon a few short-term bucks off of, they will continue to replace elected governments as they are doing in Michigan, and they will leave the 99% to the mercies of Christian charity.
It’s not like this will be unprecedented. The history of nations, past and present, is replete with examples of nations that have suffered under this crushing combination of religious repression and economic servitude. One need not go way back to the Pharaohs of Egypt or even the aristocracies of Europe. One can look today at dictatorial regimes in the Middle East or Africa, where brutal faux democratic leaders exploit religious zealotry as their tool to hoard all the national wealth in the hands of an elite few while the masses are repressed and impoverished.
How can we fight back? It’s simple. Until our election system is changed, if you want your interests to be represented in Washington and in State capitals, you need at least one of two things. You need either truckloads of money or you need to represent a large and very vocal voting block – but ideally both. And the power of the latter is fading fast, drowned out by big money.
Religious Conservatives not only understand this game but have been playing it to win since feeling their oats during the Carter/Reagan era. We secularists have thus far failed miserably to respond with anything near the determination needed to rise to their challenge. We have remained largely silent and unorganized.
If we would only fight back, we have the powerful advantages of rationality and reason and fairness on our side. Our ideas would clobber theirs in a fair fight for public opinion. Yet we largely surrender this battle without even engaging in anything more than occasional skirmishes.
If we are to truly mount a defense, we need to get far more involved -not just as Atheists and secular individuals, nor even as independent secular organizations, but as a united and identifiable voting block that elected politicians and corporations can no longer afford to ignore. We need to craft a message of mainstream humanist values that will win over large swaths of voters and even reasonable Christians who are uneasy with the frightening extremism of the Right.