I’ve never been to the States, but I really want to go. The place absolutely fascinates me. The reason it fascinates me is because it’s so similar to the UK, but yet so different in a number of key areas. These differences make the US all the more interesting. When you see another human walking along the street that is blind or has an extra finger, you take more notice of them than you would a cat or a dog walking down the same street. This may seem obvious, but in situations like this differences are many times more pronounced when things are the same, but not quite.
Let me be clear that I’m no academic, and I’m certainly not an expert on American culture. But from reading about America during my time studying politics at university and reading about it afterwards, there is one really interesting difference between America and the UK: the prominence and application of Christianity in the public sphere.
I don’t believe religion is a bad thing. On the contrary, I think that it can have a positive influence on people. Sometimes it provides people with hope and a place to turn to when everyone else turns away. However, it can pit huge numbers of people against each other and result in a huge loss of life. The most obvious example of this antipathy is that between Muslims and Christians – felt acutely in New York 10 years ago
Most interesting for me as someone who is interested in politics is the penetration of religion in US government. The Republicans is full to the brim of individuals who are staunchly anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality, pro-interventionist and sympathetic to creationism.
One of the most comical figures in the Republican Party is Michele Bachmann. During her campaign tour in August, she shared her belief that the earthquake in Virginia and Hurricane Irene were ‘punishments’ from God because American government is ‘too big’. Wow. This is disgustingly funny. Imagine how difficult it would have been for Diane Abbott MP to say that on the campaign trail in Stoke Newington and remain a member of the Labour Party. Bachmann certainly cemented her reputation as a laughing stock, and her PR quickly released a statement saying she had not meant what she had said on that morning in Florida.
There are, however, (slightly) more sensible candidates. The current leader in the leadership contest for the Republicans presidential nominee is in full swing, and there is an arguable frontrunner: Governor of Texas Rick Perry, who has been praised for allegedly bucking the trend of low growth in his State. Even though there is still widespread poverty and unemployment among those in the working class, Mr Perry says he can ‘do what he did for Texas for America’. Let’s not go into that though.
Perry is a self-declared ‘man of faith’ and a Methodist – he regularly attends a very large evangelical church in Austin. Recently, he got into trouble over a ‘prayer event’ he organised – a watchdog group called The Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a legal complaint against him, highlighting the fact that his involvement as a member of the government is wrong and shouldn’t be allowed:
They are “nonbelievers who support the free exercise of religion, but strongly oppose the governmental establishment and endorsement of religion, including prayer and fasting, which are not only an ineffectual use of time and government resources, but which can be harmful or counterproductive as a substitute for reasoned action.”
Sounds like they are pretty level-headed people, then?
One of the most unattractive things about some politicians are their views on evolution. People who choose to ignore scientifically proven theories are, in my opinion, ignorant. Rick Perry seems to be one of these people. In August, he commented on the curriculum taught in Texan schools: “In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools, because I figured you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.” No prizes for guessing which one he believes in.
This pro-religion, anti-science position is rife inside the Republican Party. I fervently believe that teaching a child a specific religion in school is wrong. Even though studies have provided evidence that only 10-20% of teachers in any given state in the US teach creationism, that percentage is too high. Drumming a theory of existence into a child that has almost no scientific evidence to back it up teaches them to blindly believe in things that are wrong. Evolution has been proven as a theory consistently by a number of scientists since the time of Darwin: what is there to argue with? It doesn’t have ‘holes in it’ like Mr Perry argues.
Children need to be taught about what has been scientifically proven when they are young. The right to believe in creationism is always reserved, but just as a child cannot be held accountable for a crime committed when they are too young because of the age of consent, they should be left to make up their own choices without being force fed unproven theories of life until they reach that age. Being able to question and pick apart an argument such is a skill that is only picked up fully when a child gets to adolescence.
In 1987 the Supreme Court heard the legal case Edwards v. Aguillard, which banned Louisiana State from enforcing the teaching of creationism in their schools. The Court ruled that teaching creationism advanced a specific religion, and that this was unconstitutional. Intelligent design is the new spectre in America – it was invented to get around the ban on creationism.
Believe what you want to believe, but perhaps it’s better to keep your religious beliefs private and out of schools.