A peculiar idea of freedom: Fundamentalist fever turns morality upside down

Guest Commentary

Some people have a strange view of freedom. We saw that during the Arizona clash over a proposed law that would let businesses discriminate against LGBT citizens. That battle ended in late February when Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that gave Arizonans the OK to refuse service to gays if serving them went against their, or their business’ owner’s religious beliefs. Many conservatives said the bill was needed to protect what they called their “religious freedom.”

I don’t want to add to the post-veto political analysis, but I do want to take a look at this bizarre notion that being forbidden to discriminate against gays is a violation of the would-be discriminator’s religious freedom. Believe it or not, this isn’t a new idea.

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The first question that comes to mind is: What kind of religious beliefs demand that you treat gays (or women or blacks or illegal immigrants or baseball players or what-have-you) as second-class citizens? Or, to put it another way, what kind of religious beliefs direct you to act like an asshole?

The answer is that it’s the same religious beliefs Christian fundamentalists in N.C. used to justify denying gays the right to marry — the Old Testament, specifically the book of Leviticus. Not the entire Bible, just the Old Testament, because as any Bible scholar will tell you, here is exactly what Jesus said about homosexuality: Nothing. Nada. Zero. Bupkes. Zilch. Leviticus, on the other hand, promotes the idea that gay people should be killed, as well as other exotic notions about shellfish and clothes made from two kinds of fabric. Now what was it that Jesus said about bringing a “new covenant” that would supersede the original Jewish covenant with God? Hmmm.

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Way too many Christian fundamentalists ignore that part of their religion’s scripture, as well as Jesus’ decrees about helping the unfortunate. Ask a fundamentalist neighbor or family member about the “new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:6) “so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6). I’ll wager you’ll see a momentary vacant stare of denial before he or she launches into some diversionary argument. Meanwhile, fundamentalists keep hanging on to every archaic, murderous edict in the Old Testament. If they weren’t so dead-set on propping up their prejudices by declaring them to be divinely inspired — and if that kind of thinking hadn’t already had a terrible influence on our nation’s history and culture by way of the Old Testament’s approval of slavery — today’s Christian right would just seem silly. As things stand, however, they’re tenacious irritants with more influence than their numbers warrant; a regular source of buffoonery; and a roadblock to the expansion of freedom to more types of Americans than they approve of.

During the civil rights movement, I heard supposed “good Christians” rail against Martin Luther King, Jr. with the argument that the Bible justified the legal separation of the races, which of course meant that Jesus didn’t want them to be forced to let African-Americans shop in their stores. Today’s Christian right is part and parcel of the same ignorant, twisted view of their own religion and, just like the Bible thumpers of the ‘60s, they conveniently think their social system and beliefs come straight from God. The only freedom they are fighting for is the “freedom” to isolate themselves from gays and the other realities of a society that, as much as they hate it, is not willing to be stuck in the early 20th century. : :

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