Thursday, January 12, 2012

Speaking In Tongues

I don't often spend time reading Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum, but I am certainly glad I did this morning. Her latest column examines an issue that has long puzzled and troubled me: the apparent clout of the Religious Reich. She was in Israel when the story about the young school girl in an ultra-ultra Orthodox neighborhood who was spat upon and harassed by some of the locals because, even in her long-sleeved blouse and floor-length skirt, her ankles could be seen as she walked. Ms. Daum was clearly appalled by the act of the ultra-ultra Orthodox men, but (and this is key) she was even more appalled by the fact that the rest of Israel allowed them to behave in such a manner.

She then uses that experience as a backdrop to what is happening in this country, and particularly in the GOP campaigns for the presidential nomination, using Rick Santorum's pronouncements on gays, abortion rights, contraception, and even sex outside of baby-making as a prime example of extreme religious zealotry taking over the affairs of a democracy.

...I couldn't help but notice that just as Israel tolerates, and even cooperates in, the extremist behavior of a minority of its population, GOP leaders, especially in election season in the U.S., seem willing to pander to the furthest reaches of the right wing. ...

Why does Santorum persist with his rhetoric? Well, in fairness, he's a conservative (and an intensely literal-minded) Catholic, and he seems to believe most of it personally, even if hardly anyone else does. But zealots in Israel believe it's OK to spit at schoolgirls, even if hardly anyone else does. In both cases, the problem is what happens to democratic principles when such personal beliefs intersect public policy.

In the U.S., we too often grant the noisiest, most threatening zealots too much power to set the agenda. We're complicit in creating the illusion that religious fundamentalism is so rabid and so monolithic that we must appease it in order to keep it from turning against us. What we have in Santorum, who's clearly banking on South Carolina rolling quite a bit holier than New Hampshire, is a man enthralled with that mythic power — and it's making him speak in tongues.
[Emphasis added]


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