Today there was a totally unnerving interview on Democracy Now today with former evangelical Christian heavyweight Frank Schaeffer. Schaeffer is the son of Francis Schaeffer, one of the nation’s foremost evangelical leaders in the 1970s and 1980s and a key proponent of Dominionism: a movement which aims to return the U.S. to governance according to the Bible.
This is, Schaeffer argues literally the equivalent of revolutionary Iran’s attempt to establish Shar’iah law, or rule according to the Koran. As Schaeffer points out, what the Dominionists are engaged in is an attempt to return the country to a neolithic system of laws that advocate complete subservience of women to their husbands, the stoning to adulterers, and the killing of homosexuals.
Pretty insane, right? But, as the segment on Democracy Now details, one of the top Republican candidates for president, Michele Bachmann, is actually a firm believer in Dominionism, In fact, in a recent profile in The New Yorker magazine, Bachmann states that she entered politics after watching Francis Schaeffer’s film, “How Should We Then Live?”, which was directed by his son Frank.
It’s really shocking that such extreme and flagrantly bigoted views could now be so close to the mainstream of U.S. politics. Most Americans of course have little idea that the ideological zealotry of the Tea Party is directly linked to Dominionist positions that go back to before the Cold War, to the Great Depression, when the economic crash was seen as divine punishment for a sinfully secular nation and when the New Deal and, indeed, all forms of federal government, including progressive taxation, were seen as creeping Communist attempts to destroy Christianity.
Centrist leaders of today like President Obama just don’t get it: they’re dealing with people who believe that the federal government must be abolished in order to preserve the Christian way of life. This is why groups like the Tea Party can continue to act like an oppressed minority while simultaneously holding the entire nation to ransom over otherwise trivial agreements such as raising the debt ceiling.
Given the transformation of the U.S. over the last forty years by an increasingly powerful Christian evangelical insurgency bent on obliterating two hundred years of struggles for gender, racial, and class equality, maybe it’s time to consider a practical step. Maybe we should start taxing religious organizations.
Right now the U.S. is the only democracy in the Western world which allows religious institutions to be completely tax free. In addition, individuals can make whatever donations they want to such institutions and have these donations be tax deductible. This of course is a huge drain on the federal coffers at a time when everyone seems worried about our national debt. But, even more importantly, it’s a massive clandestine subsidy for increasingly extreme religious forces in the U.S.
Aside from these contemporary economic considerations, this state of affairs is also a direct contravention of the Constitution. The first sentence of the Bill of Rights reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Establishing religious organizations as tax-free institutions is a direct contravention of this directive since it facilitates the establishment of religion in the most direct manner possible.
Unlike other non-profit institutions, religious institutions in the U.S are not subject to I.R.S. audit and public scrutiny. Since the “faith-based initiatives” of the George W. Bush administration, more and more public money is siphoned through religious organizations that are not answerable to the public in general, but rather intent on making converts to their own narrow view of the world.
The U.S. is degenerating more and more into a theocracy. Isn’t it about time that we stopped this appalling slide?