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It is sometimes difficult to observe religious fundamentalism without taking our eyes away from the Middle East. However one of the largest threats to secular politics in the 21st century takes the form of a hefty group of mostly Republicans in the one state that can boast a non-religious constitution, the United States.
Taking its name from the mutinous Boston Tea Party of 1773, the Tea Party doesn’t quite have the innovation of their anti-colonial forefathers. Their protests began to be organised on a national scale in 2009 in response to reforms and increased federal budget spending. One such protest caught on camera the kind of people who attend these events. Are their motivations completely political? It is a reasonable conclusion to draw of the people who create conspiracy theories – such as Obama’s link to Al Qaeda because his surname sounds like Osama (that’s not even an exaggeration) – that they are unlikely to really understand the way in which their government functions. Furthermore the anti-gay rights and pro-life section of society is almost universally right wing Christian.
So although it seems unfair to suggest that all those who support The Tea Party are as religiously driven as the likes of Sarah Palin and her entourage of evolution deniers, the new evangelism seems to marry perfectly to the right wing American politics. The men and women who take up their placards to fight economic intervention and “the communist” Barack Obama, in their majority, also take their places in the pews of the new fundamentalist churches. This is not just speculation; in the midterm elections last year the highest turnout group was white Evangelicals, of whom 78% voted Republican. The political values of the group make good reading; as well as being against the bail outs America paid last year, such as General Motors, they generally favour reduced government spending – there is no mistaking the conservative in these social values. Yet their stance is void of any inkling of foreign policy or defence policy, and to have no views on the geopolitical status of the most important country on the planet shows the political incapacity of these people, who seem to believe that locking themselves in will solve all of their country’s problems.
There are certainly no holes in their social values though, and here is where the penny drops. They continue to support the institutionalisation of Christian values in the public sphere while denying the significance of their secular constitution and then have the cheek to fabricate tales of religiosity and attach it to the likes of Thomas Jefferson, who was a stern believer in separation of church and state. Furthermore they are in their most part staunch anti-abortionists and anti-gay rights; apparently morally guided by God, they do not realise they’re a good century behind the rest of society’s common values. As it is, the Tea Party has no direct representation in elections, but those who do associate with it make their allegiance clear. It is well known in American politics that coming out as atheist, or at least non-religious, is more than likely to put any aspiration of election to bed. Now it seems, however, people with little more than crackpot ideas and a cross around their neck can secure the votes of millions if they just show their resent for the Obama administration and discuss the importance of Jesus.
What would it mean if they gained a significant foothold in the Senate? Well, for the few senators with seats who associate with the Tea Party, their means, for now, are restricted. But as the protest numbers continue to rise with every turnout, the potential realities are becoming less lucid. This is where further light is shone on the irrefutable religious link. As legislation falls into their hands, expect to see the likes of US Senator Jim DeMint, who recently introduced a legislation that would allow religious banners in schools. Furthermore, though the case for abortion is no closed book, he is against it even in cases of incest or rape. This is a man who sticks to his guns with a very powerful adhesive. It is not, however, a growing problem only in the Senate. The more people associate with this group, the more they steer their ears towards the babble of Sarah Palin, who on regular occasions has shown she is not cut out for big time politics. Her support grows, however, and she already has some wild ideas about running for presidency in 2012. Is it worth thinking about that the same woman who called intervention in Iraq a “holy war” could have access to the nuclear codes? Religion becomes problematic as soon as it enters the political sphere because, even in a first world state like the United States, personal religious values will always be stacked above the desires of the people. Don’t think this isn’t important even in our relatively safe United Kingdom.