This upcoming election features a candidate who is stirring much of the population in a direction that appears to be “righteous” and follows “God’s laws”. The issue of political corruption, when observed from a historical perspective, becomes a moot point in contrast to the implications of religion that one candidate is distinguishing himself upon. Without doubt, he is igniting anew an impetus that has smouldered within the human condition since at least 1,700 years ago.
Costa Rican politics is heightened by this self-proclaimed evangelical candidate who threatens to radically change the philosophical landscape of a country not known for its significant divisions, but a country at peace with the world, a country that takes a very cautious approach to controversy, and a country that lives by its motto of ‘Pura Vida’. So then, the logical questions to ask are, “Why is this happening? What difference would it make? Why even worry about it?”
Before the Age of Enlightenment, it was always a question of how humans can use “God’s laws” to better rule a nation, to attempt to bring about a temporal “Kingdom of God”. The debate over what that meant or what to emphasize or who would do it was often solved by warfare, intrigue, famine or even plague. This self-righteous motivation was the main force that converted people (or else, they die or be estranged from society or be prevented from certain professions). Also, this mentality shut down the freedom of science — the honest debate about the world and the cosmos we live in. Sadly, we still see this attitude of denial in regions of the world that hold onto religious fundamentalism. Be it Islam or Christianity, the deniers do it in the name of their god, in the name of protecting the “sacred texts”. They instill fear in their followers, which stifles the urge to be objective. “God said it, I believe it”, is probably one of the most succinct catch phrases meant to shut down wide-ranging thoughts despite cognitive dissonances.
Most governments were a combination of the powers of the “Mother Church” and that of the physical nature of the state. In fact, in most cases, they were considered one and the same. The Age of Enlightenment brought about a vision that rationality, objective thought, and the intrinsic value of humankind make the world a better place. “Divine Right of Kings” was a notion that was already failing, but its implications did not happen overnight. The value of a human being, apart from whatever a “sacred text” may say, was integral to a rational approach that eventually blossomed into what we know as democratic ideals. To be certain, this was vigorously opposed by the “Mother Church”. Authoritarian governments, be they left or right, stand in opposition to the view that humans have intrinsic value and, therefore, intrinsic rights apart from the Koran or the Bible. The Age of Enlightenment saw movements directly attacking the meddling of the church with state affairs, and yet, we still see movements that try and reverse the gains the world has made by being rational, objective and humanistic (I’m quite aware of the word ‘humanistic’ or ‘humanism’ being ignorantly denigrated by evangelical cultures, so I use this word with much intention).
Can we expect those who yearn for the return of theology into governance to look at the history of such attempts? Can we expect a rational analysis of human rights advances in spite of the opposition by conservative churches in almost all cases?
Within the subset of “almost all cases”, at every turn, the Bible was used to oppose the advancement of human rights (many of which are now unquestioned, yet some remain e.g. gay rights). l attempt to enumerate these in chronological order for the Western World, with emphasis on the United States experience, but most other democracies parallel these:
- right to self-govern
- belief in the separation of church and state
- value of public education
- abolition of slavery
In the US, it was the churches that called for abolition as well as Bible-based institution of slavery. The abolitionists were considered biblically liberal, whereas the pro-slavery churches were the theologically conservative ones, roughly parallel to the evangelical movements of today.
- enactment of child labor laws
- establishment of worker safety laws
- severe curtailment of monopolies
- women’s suffrage
- labor rights e.g. right to organize into unions
- civil rights i.e. racial discrimination
- environmental protection
- woman’s “right to choose” regarding her own body
- right to not have religious indoctrination in public schools
- human rights for LGBT
Above are the positives that the conservative Christian churches vehemently opposed, using the Bible as the underlying rationale to their opposition. On the other hand, these are things the conservative Christian churches supported:
- warfare as a legitimate, even righteous endeavor: We would be hard pressed to find a war they did not support.
- forcible removal of indigenous children from families: Innocent children are put into Christian schools a.k.a. “culture-cide”
- KKK: In the US, a self-identified Christian organization terrorized non-white or Catholic populations, in the name of Protestant theology and white nationalism.
- official discriminatory laws to keep non-white races “separate but equal”
- property tax laws designed to maintain poverty and fund unequal education
- overwhelming support of Hitler and the fascist Italy by Catholics and Protestant Germans (with few notable exceptions)
- virulent attacks against those struggling for civil rights, labeling them as “communists” or other hateful racial epithets, with the strongest opposition coming from the most conservative, Bible-based Protestant churches
- resort to violence against abortion clinics and doctors, all in the name of their god
- strong opposition to racial desegregation
- involvement in politics in the 70’s, a previously taboo area for conservative Christians
- virtually every right-wing dictator, as well as South Africa’s Apartheid
- numerous acts of terrorism against who are “on the opposite side of the culture war”
- enacting capital crimes for homosexuality by some African countries
This long list is not meant to be either exhaustive nor in denial of positive contributions by conservative Christianity, but as an example of what this philosophy has been shown to be. Also, this concentration on Christian fundamentalism is not meant in any way to avoid or absolve the dire abuses of human rights by Islamic fundamentalism.
The Western World has come a long way from the Dark Ages to the Age of Enlightenment. Magical thinking; false theories of genetics, health, disease, natural history, cosmology, human interactions, psychology, and pharmacology; and emotionally based policies or philosophies are slowly giving way in the face of humanism-inspired approaches.
Do we go back to basing our approach to life and governance on overt applications of biblical principles? Not that I condemn or even disapprove of every biblical principle, but please consider that a current candidate advocates the denial of basic human rights to a segment of the human population, basing his view from a book that considers genocide and rape righteous. Slavery is codified, not just time-limited servitude but chattel slavery in perpetuity. Polygamy is uncritically addressed, as is sexual slavery (concubines). In possibly every case of conservative Christian opposition to human rights, lies and misinformation abound, appealing to emotions and an audience who is used to not knowing critical thinking.
To those who stand by the principle of denying human rights to homosexuals, based on the Bible, please consider not only what is written in the “sacred texts” but also how this opposition to human development has looked in history and reflected upon the credibility of your faith. As an example, the US has had the evangelical churches involve themselves in governance for approximately 40 years, and they have done a very good job in infiltrating government at all levels. There is little surprise that those who originally opposed to this involvement see that the church has become “soiled”. With the current phenomenon of Donald Trump; with over 80% voting support from the evangelical population; with the push against important issues — environmental legislation, government protective regulations and workers rights; with climate science denial; with anti-intellectualism; with a tax-induced upward wealth distribution; and with bigotry, misogyny and attitude against inclusion, the evangelical church has lost any moral authority it had. Its credibility is zero, and I would argue it is even less than that.
A Costa Rican candidate running for presidency promises a policy against basic human rights. His desire to combine church and state should set off all alarms, but do not let yourselves fear (they call it love or righteousness, a common and constant tactic by right-wing demagogues). Inducing hatred towards any fellow man never yields greatness; look at the consequences history provides. Pay close attention to those who offer to quench your thirst for power.
Richard Alan Gray
- Expert in Conflict Resolution
- HAPI General Assembly 2018 sponsor
Insatiably curious, he is in the process of recovering from the fundamentalist part of his upbringing.