It seems that it’s not only the deeply religious Jack Abramoff who hardly ever visited the White House now we learn that the Evangelical leader Rev. Ted Haggard was rarely seen or heard from there either. How quickly good friends are forgotten at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Haggard may not be a household name, but in addition (until yesterday) to leading one of the nation’s largest and most influential megachurches, he also headed (until this past week) the 30 million member National Association of Evangelicals. Haggard, whose church is just down the street, was also deeply involved in the controversy about the heavy handed mix of church with state at the Air Force Academy. He is also a neighbor and ally of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and of Washington’s Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council. Perkins you will remember did a lot of sanctimonious gay bashing during the Foley episode, but that was in another news cycle.
In all of this, one can’t help but to be reminded of the king of all gay gay-bashers, J. Edgar Hoover. The word hypocrisy comes to mind then and now. Haggard was a leading member of the chorus of Evangelical leaders who characterize what they like to call “the gay life” as if it isn’t a real life for a considerable percentage of the human population, as sinful. He was also a vocal opponent of same sex marriage (which percipitated his outing). It appears that, despite early denials (doesn’t that sound like a politician) what he does and what he says may be very different. It is the kind of societal double standard that has been so devastating to the gay community and which to this day keeps many members of our so-called welcoming society locked in painful closets. If Bill Clinton’s claim not to have inhaled failed to pass the credibility test, what do you think about Haggard’s claim of buying methamphetamines but just throwing them away. Ah, the good old tooth fairy is alive and well in Colorado.
All of this can be viewed as just another symptom of the unraveling of the faith-based moralistic Bush Administration, so closely allied with the Religious Right and specifically with the Evangelicals of the Haggard, Dobson and Perkins ilk. But in a more rudimentary sense it stands as another reminder of the negative and oft insincere role that religion is playing in our times. On the domestic front, people like this, aided and abetted by those now in control of the Republican Party, want to get into both our bedrooms and our doctor’s offices/operating rooms not to mention inject their medieval teachings into our public schools. Globally, they leave behind a trail of blood which is far more polluting and devastating than some of the worst ecological disasters. And just as Democrats and liberals have stood on the sidelines watching but expressing what is at best muted criticism, mainstream religion, with very few exceptions, either says nothing or changes the subject altogether. Karl Rove would be proud of both of them, and no doubt is at the very least grateful for their help of silence, or as the Religious Right might put it, abstinence.
It is this state of affairs that has driven Sam Harris to write an even more biting follow up to his “End of Faith” indictment of religion, the recently published slim volume “Letter to a Christian Nation”. Harris in his first book and even more pointedly here castigates religion past and present for both its violent and hypocritical acts, not to mention unproven contentions the like of which we accept nowhere else in our lives. He argues that, far from being deprived of a moral compass, non-believers and avowed atheists are just as likely to possess a strong moral compass as are those who profess being followers of a God. Harris doesn’t have much hope for religion of any kind or stripe, perhaps even less than was evident in his larger and more comprehensive volume. I certainly haven’t come to that ultimate conclusion, but my own exploration of this subject (hopefully resulting in a book) is leading me down a similarly critical and disheartening path. The real question ahead of us is whether the Haggards of this world are giving religion a bad name or if the underlying nature of religion is merely the bad apple on which they feast? Whatever the case, chalk this one up for the bad guys. Take that to the voting booth on Tuesday.