The feeding frenzy is on, and the sharks are gathering to tear at the corpse floating in the bloody water. They're driven by an impulse to destroy anything in America that doesn't jibe with their religious belief.
All the intolerant Republican rabble-rousing of the Presidential campaign has been building towards this moment, when Senator Elizabeth Dole ran a TV ad that will be remembered as a milestone of arrogant mindlessness -- even compared to mindless ads from the McCain/Palin campaign. Dole is now plummeting from her one-time position on the "ten most admired women list" and might well lose the election because of the ad.
Incumbent Dole is trailing and desperate in her North Carolina Senate race against Democratic challenger Kay Hagan. So Dole's ad attacked Hagan as "godless" for appearing at a Boston fundraiser in which the Godless Americans Political Action Committee were involved. Hagan also apparently accepted a campaign contribution from an individual member of the GAPAC, a legitimate political organization organized to fight for separation of church and state, and the rights of atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and freethinkers. Dole's ad attacked the contribution as "godless money."
But -- and this is the point of my commentary -- Hagan's response to Dole's attack was equally mindless. All Hagan did was get defensive and protest that she teaches Sunday school at her Presbyterian church. She attacked Dole for attacking her Christian faith. In a news interview, she even insisted that she had never heard of the GAPAC, though it's evident that this organization was involved in putting on the fundraiser. Now she's suing Dole, demanding that the ad be pulled. Dole refuses to comply.
Hagan didn't do what she should have done -- have some guts and go on the offensive. She should stick up for the rights of non-Christian Americans. Especially the non-Christians among her NC constituents. This is what most of us would expect a real Democrat to do.
After all, it is legal to be a non-Christian in this country. Not only that... it is legal for non-Christians to participate in the democratic process. That includes giving money to candidates. So there should be no stigma around a candidate's accepting a legitimate contribution from a legitimate non-Christian political organization. Hagan should have said to Dole, "And your point is?"
According to Fox News, by taking the money, Hagan was supporting what Fox alleged to be a GAPAC "agenda," doubtless to magically convert all Americans into atheists. This insinuation by Fox goes further down the road of mindlessness. If this is how elections are to be run, then an orthodox Christian candidate can't accept a contribution from a Unitarian, because Unitarians don't believe in the Trinity... and Unitarians might have an "agenda" to turn all Americans into non-trinitarians. Nor can a Protestant or Catholic even take a contribution from a Mormon. (This principle would certainly play hell with the Prop 8 battle in California, where all the other Christian anti-gay groups have been happily accepting the millions in contributions from the Mormon Church.)
Our Nation's "Godless" Past
America's dedication to freedom of thought has traveled a long road -- and it got off to a rocky start in the colonies before 1776. But the dedication got stronger with support of founder figures like Thomas Jefferson, who said in 1782, "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." That's a pretty godless statement, if you ask me.
By the late 1800s, our country had become "godless" enough that Catholics and Jews could finally vote. Christian Scientists could open their "godless" reading rooms anywhere. "Godless" Buddhist temples built in California by immigrant Asians could be safe from attack. The "godless" Masonic Hall was a respected institution in most American towns. Freethinkers like "godless" Victoria Woodhull could campaign openly for women's rights alongside Christians like Susan B. Anthony. Most recent to be recognized were America's First Nation tribes, who finally were granted freedom to do their "godless" ceremonies during a period lasting from the 1970s to the '90s.
In fact, the IRS is happy to grant tax-exempt status to any non-Christian church that comes down the road, as long as its paperwork is in order.
But lately, the very right of non-Christians to participate in politics being challenged by the religious right, who proclaim ever more noisily (and falsely) that "America is a Christian nation." So Dole called Hagan "godless" simply for taking a contribution from a non-Christian.
In Dole's ad, Bill O'Reilly adopts his best Spanish Inquisition tone as he asks a GAPAC member if he favors taking "In God We Trust" off our money. We're all supposed to gasp in horror at the very idea. But the "godless" U.S. did just fine without the God slogan for nearly a century -- it didn't appear on our money till 1864. President Theodore Roosevelt took the slogan off our money for a while because he thought it had no business being there. The slogan wasn't adopted as the official U.S. motto until 1956.
And while I'm on the subject, an apparently "godless" America also did great without the two words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. It wasn't till 1954, during Eisenhower's presidency, that these words were added to the Pledge.
Here's the ugly reality behind the "godless" flimflam. In recent years, the Republicans got so hungry for votes that they started bending over the desk for the religious right. There are reports that the secretive dominionist Council for National Policy threw its support -- and its huge war chest -- behind McCain in exchange for his accepting Sarah Palin as his running mate. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, Gov. Palin is a member of the CNP. If these reports are true, I'm not surprised. I've been wondering what kind of colossal back-room deal could have put this woman -- who is such an obvious puppet for hard-right religion, but an otherwise undistinguished machine politician with a record of political corruption -- in a position to be President.
But in recent years, even the Democrats have started bending over the desk for the righters. Hagan's gutlessness -- her defensive toadying to the church lobby -- is heartbreaking for those of us Democrats who still hope to see the party pull itself out of the muck.
If I lived in North Carolina, I'd probably vote for Hagan... but I'd be holding my nose while doing it. After the election, I'd show up on her doorstep with a bunch of angry non-Christian constituents and make her eat her donkey hat.
Meanwhile, the corpse in the water, the one being being torn apart by the churchy sharks, is the America that we used to know. The America where there was some elbow room for all kinds of people to think and pray and politick as they chose. The America where immigrants used to come because they didn't have freedom to think and pray and politick somewhere else.