By Merle Hertzler
(Last updated 9/2/06)
In recent years the American national debt has soared, America has become entangled in a prolonged war in Iraq, and the environment has suffered. But many Americans had something far weightier on their minds when they voted in the last election, and that was the concern about which politicians best favored their Evangelical positions. In his book, American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips discusses the political movement that kept George W. Bush in power.
A few short years ago the government had a surplus for the first time in many years. When Geroge W. Bush was debating Al Gore prior to the 2000 election, they had discussed what to do with that surplus. You may remember that Gore (somewhat obnoxiously) had insisted that the surplus should go into a lockbox to save social security. This was the hot item for discussion: What shall we do with all of this surplus? We no longer hear such debate. Nobody discusses what we should do with the federal surplus any more. There is no surplus. Instead the government deficit has skyrocketed. The national debt had reached 7.8 trillion dollars by 2005. That is more than $25,000 for every person in the USA. Does your family of four understand that your $100,000 share of the national debt will be passed on to your children?
Somehow the debt took second place in the minds of many Americans at the polls, who seemed more interested in fighting to stop gay people from making lifetime commitments to each other. And so they voted for their religious values, finding it more important to oppose the sex life of someone down the street than to stop the reckless buildup of debt.
Back in 2000, America was respected around the world, and we enjoyed peace. All of that has changed. Our leaders were wrong in their assertions that we faced imminent danger from weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They falsely inferred that Iraq was linked to 9/11, and they have started a war with questionable purpose. No connection between Iraq and 9/11 has been shown--Bush even admitted in a recent news conference that there was no such connnection--yet even today there are people who think that this war in Iraq is about 9/11. And we are now spending billions of dollars on the war, losing many soldiers, seeing many Iraqis die, and watching the chaos that dominates that country.
Many think the real reason for this war was the Iraqi oil. For we love oil. It fuels our SUVs and powers NASCAR. We Americans were the world's leading oil producer for many years. But our oil wells have been drying up. Production in the continental United States has been declining since 1970. And the oil production of North America has now peaked, as well as the production of most of the world. But demand has not stopped. American demand for oil seems insatiable, and rising economies in Asia and elsewhere are beginning to demand increasing supplies. With the world demand rising, and many of the world's oil fields past their peak, it is not hard to see that we are headed for serious problems. Fortunately, Saudi Arabia and some of its OPEC allies have been able to crank up production almost as fast as demand rises, and we have avoided serious shortages. But how much longer can this continue? Estimates for the peak in world oil production vary between 2005 and 2035. Can you see gas shortages coming?
Some will tell me that God knows we need oil, and he will see to it that we get all of the oil we need--provided, of course, we force everybody else to live by conservative Christian morals. Such a view ignores the fact that many Christians have suffered great want, and that many have starved throughout history. This view ignores the fact that there is a limit to the current reserves, that oil is not being added to the reserves, and that oil becomes more and more expensive to produce from any given field as more oil is drawn from that field. Eventually the field shuts down. If demand continues to increase, and oil fields slowly shut down, shortages will be certain.
There is one country that has huge reserves that have seen little production in the last 10 years. It is thus a great reserve against the coming crisis. That country is Iraq. But after the first gulf war, little oil flowed from Iraq. Hussein had not been cooperative with the United States. Many think oil is the real reason for the current war in Iraq. Could it be that the government was interested in opening up the Iraqi oil fields again and establishing American oil companies in Iraq? If so, that plot has failed. Oil cannot flow from Iraq in any sufficient quantities due to the anarchy. Even if the anarchy in Iraq is brought under control, the new government could easily turn on the United States, and could join instead with Iran. And so our troops remain ensnared in Iraq, with their leaders unwilling to withdrawal from the precious oil fields, but with little to be accomplished by staying there. We will not control oil by fighting for it. Perhaps we should be thinking about solutions to the future oil crisis other than a war over the oil fields.
Of course we are told that the war has nothing to do with oil, but instead is being fought to spread democracy to the Iraqi people. Whether the war will produce a healthy democracy is doubtful. One surely has to question if anything can come out of that anarchy. And one wonders why we ignored Saddam's evil for years before being stricken with a sudden surge of compassion for the Iraqi people, and the desire to help them have a democracy. Could it be that the democracy argument is just a ruse?
Somehow the failures of this war were secondary to many Evangelicals at the polls. Issues like abortion were on their minds. Never mind that many people differed with them on exactly when a fertilized egg should be called a person. They "knew" that they were right, that the moment the sperm enters the egg God injects a soul also. Never mind that nearly half of these one-celled "persons" quickly die as they fail to attach to the uterus. Never mind that these cells in no way resemble people, and are far from being able to think or feel. Somehow, many people were sure these fertilized cells were people, and needed all of the protections reserved for people. So they voted for the politicians whom they thought were most likely to stop their neighbor from having an abortion or taking the morning-after pill.
We have seen the collapse of American manufacturing, as many goods are now made overseas, and finance now exceeds manufacturing in America. If America hopes to remain great, it must once again excel at building things. Instead we consume much, and make little. And personal debt is rising. But many seemed to be more interested in the Terri Schiavo case, than in seriously addressing these issues.
In recent years the rich have gotten richer, and the poor have gotten poorer. Programs for the poor have been cut. There have been huge tax breaks for the rich. Regulations on the credit industry have been removed and the bankruptcy laws have been modified in favor of the creditors. As a result, many find themselves in huge debt with no way out, and find themselves as indentured servants to the rich. The plight of the poor after Katrina is a graphic picture of the vulnerability of many Americans, and of the unwillingness or incompetence of the government to help.
And yet somehow doing something about the very real people who suffer in America has taken second place to protecting the one-celled "persons" floating in the uterus.
In recent years we have seen the environment endangered, civil liberties eroded, manufacturing decreased, poverty increased, science ignored, and war prolonged. But many see these issues as secondary to promoting their particular Christian values.
Is it that vital to you that your country forces consenting adults down the street to fulfill their sexual desires only as your religion directs? Is it important to you that Hindu and Buddhist kids be forced to read the Bible and pray to Jesus in public schools? Is forcing your conserrvative Christian values on others the most important consideration as you go to the polls?
Many are indeed trying to force their narrow values on others, for they fear that the country will be judged by God if they don't. After 9/11 Jerry Falwell infamously said, "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'" When questioned about this comment, Falwell quickly backed away, and apologized for it. He found that he would look very foolish if he would try to support those words in open debate. But, unfortunately, many people support the view that Falwell expressed. They believe that disasters that happen to America may be caused by lesbians or abortionists down the street. Now one would think that if God was truly angry at lesbians, he would target his strike against them alone. But no, we are told that God will abandon his support of all America unless lesbians are forced to conform to a particular narrow Christian view of morality. And so the push goes on to change others, and to prevent others from freely expressing themselves in ways that differ with the favored morality.
Folks, please understand that the world works according to fixed laws. There are natural laws that will result in the deterioration of the environment or the depletion of our oil reserves if we do not respond well. A country that abandons the environment, abandons the poor, and builds excessive debt will run into trouble, regardless of its religious persuasion. Forcing a change in another's morality will not resolve these issues.
Phillips is exhaustive in pointing out the peril of radical religion, oil and borrowed money in America but he is short on solutions. The issues he discusses are very complex. There are no easy answers, but there are things we can do. It will require all of us to work together to chart a successful course in the coming century. Whether this requires bigger government, smaller government, or simply a smarter government is something we all can differ on. The important thing is that we realize the immense problems, and work together to solve them.
So go ahead and practice your religion and preach your values. But realize, please, that the success of our country depends on working together to resolve these great issues. Our political discourse should center on resolving such problems, not in forcing a particular morality on others.
Phillips has done a great job of presenting the issues to the public in his book. I recommend it.
(Click here to see more about the book)