Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rick Perry's Theocratic Vision

Rick Perry's new "I'm a Christian" ad is evidence that the people he's targeting do not understand something fundamental about the American system that they proclaim is so "exceptional." The mindset expressed in the ad is nothing short of theocratic.

Perry says: “there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” Discussing that passage, Andrew Sullivan writes:
we get a classic non-sequitur: the notion that allowing openly gay servicemembers to serve without fear of prosecution is somehow connected to the constitutional prohibition of prayer in schools. There is zero connection between the two issues - except both are objected to by Christianist fundamentalists.
I think there is a connection between the two, beyond what Sullivan says, and that the way Perry connects the two is instructive.

Perry is really saying that government, by allowing open service by gays in the military, is thereby endorsing who they are. Defending the ad today, Perry said: "President Obama has again mistaken America's tolerance for different lifestyles with an endorsement of those lifestyles."

In Perry's mind, treating people whose conduct you personally find to be contrary to your own morality as equals in the public sphere is an endorsement--it is saying that who they are and how they act is right and good. In his mind, there is no room for saying "that's none of my (or the government's) business."

In effect, he is saying that there is a moral standard (one that is set by his own view of Christianity) to qualify for equal citizenship. It is hard to imagine anything more contrary to a foundational principle of American government, expressed in the words engraved in the Supreme Court building: "equal justice under law."

Perry then makes a comparison between open service and not allowing schools to endorse Christianity via prayers and Christmas celebrations. That's why they are connected in his mind, and in the minds of those to whom he is appealing. Government, he says, is endorsing homosexuality (which it should not do), and is not endorsing Christianity, which it should do.

The common element is the idea that government has a role to play in endorsing some moral principles and condemning others. Government should not, Perry is suggesting, treat all people equally: it should endorse some and condemn others. That is a theocratic mindset.

Perry looks at the inclusiveness that a pluralistic society demands (everyone is treated equally under the law) and the refusal to endorse one religious vision (which a pluralistic society also demands) and wants us to see a contradiction. In fact, the two things are perfectly consistent with each other--if one believes (as the Founders did) that there should be no religious test for citizenship.

Perry's problem is that he either does not understand that, or does not believe in it. He thinks government should discriminate against those whose private behavior he abhors and should publicly advance his particular religious beliefs even though they are not universally held. He is saying that failing to give Christians a superior position in American society is effectively discrimination against Christians.

In this worldview, there is no room for equal protection under the law. This is truly 1984 territory: failing to discriminate against minorities is discriminating against the majority.

It is disturbing enough that an allegedly serious candidate for the presidency in 2012 could espouse such views. It is even more disturbing that he seems to think it will appeal large number of Republican primary voters. It would be most disturbing were it to turn out that he's right.

1 comment:

  1. The unfortunate truth is that what Perry says will indeed appeal to a large number of people,
    mainly right wing Republicans and Tea Party
    supporters. Whoever said to never underestimate the ignorance of the average American voter was right. Just look at the candidates for the Republican Party presidential nomination. I rest my case
    Bob Litman in Washington, DC