The road to hell

To read the Christian Coalition's "Contract With the American Family" is to wonder how well-intentioned people can come up with so many bad ideas.

And then again, to wonder what some of it has to do with either the family or Christianity.

What in the world do these people have against the Legal Services Corp.? That's the outfit that does routine legal chores for poor folks. Or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting? A whole generation of Americans has now learned its ABCs from "Sesame Street." What is antifamily about that?

The Christian Coalition wants prayer in the schools. Look, the simple test for religious freedom is not merely that every person or group be free to do what it wants but that such activity not be imposed on others. The issue is not prayer--it is coercion. Under the First Amendment, students are free now to meet with others to share, practice, and discuss their religious views.

School choice always sounds like a good idea until you stop and think about it. Can anyone tell me how it would improve the "public" schools to suddenly start spending our tax dollars on "private" schools?

I do like the idea of IRAs for homemakers. Seems fair to me.
The peculiar relationship between the Republican Party and the Christian Coalition gets stranger and stranger. Ralph Reed, the cherub-faced executive director of the coalition, announced the Contract With the American Family while surrounded by Republican members of Congress. House Speaker Newt Gingrich promised to bring the coalition's contract to the floor of the House for a vote on each of its 10-point priorities.

I've seen Congress run with legislation written by and for special interests before, but does anyone remember anything like this?

Reed proudly proclaimed that each of the contract's points had 60 percent or better support in a poll commissioned by his outfit. That is apparently why it does not go after abortion rights head-on but instead contains several provisions that would make it harder for poor women to get abortions. And the coalition still wants to cut off family planning aid to international organizations.

The Christian Coalition distributed 33 million voter's guides during the last election. That's a lot of clout. But, as the American Jewish Congress stated in a reply to the contract, "Differences with the Christian Coalition on issues such as abortion and sex education do not reflect a lack of concern or indifference to religion but genuine differences in moral perception." Calling the contract "arrogant," the AJC statement said, "We think no religious group has a monopoly on political wisdom or the solution for the problems confronting American families."

It is often difficult, and then astonishing, to remember that the religious right's political activists say they are acting in the name of Christianity. They are making the nomination of Dr. Henry Foster as surgeon general into a litmus test, using language about Foster that is, to put it mildly, distinctly un-Christian.

Foster--who has delivered 10,000 babies and whose "I Have a Future" program for teens was praised by President Bush as one of the Thousand Points of Light--is described by the religious right as "a ghoul," "Dr. Kevorkian," "a man with blood on his hands," "your worst nightmare come true," etc.

If you saw any part of Foster's nomination hearing, this will give a fair idea of how the religious right's rhetoric tracks with reality.

Our national habit is to get into a total tizzy before we've even collected the facts. Reminds me of the old political line: "I'm not sure what I think, but I'm prepared to be bitter about it."

Aldous Huxley wrote, "Certainty is profoundly comforting, and hatred pays a high dividend in emotional excitement." Some of our fellow citizens are hooked on that emotional excitement.

The late Bishop Pope (Isn't that a great name? Almost as good as Cardinal Sin), Methodist of Dallas, used to say he'd preached to "every tumbleweed and bob-war fence in Northwest Texas." Once, when ruminating on some un-Christian Christians, he said: "I can't stand intolerant people." And then he laughed and laughed.

Texas Rep. Steve Stockman, who bids fair to become the biggest embarrassment to this state since the days of Joe Pool and Bruce Alger--two famously knot-headed Congress members of yesteryear--has had an article published in Guns & Ammo magazine declaring that the assault on the Branch Davidians was a plot by President Clinton to gain support for gun control.

As those familiar with the case know, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms began planning the raid before Clinton was ever elected, and poor Janet Reno came into office after the disastrous standoff had already started.

Had the conspiracy theorists been at Mount Carmel two years ago, I think that even they would have noticed that what we had there was not a plot, not a conspiracy, and God knows certainly not a plan--it was a giant screw-up that cost at least 78 people their lives.

In the end, the tragedy was precipitated by precisely the same mind-set that drives those who join the militia movement: the Rambo mentality took over.

In watching the militia movement begin to make the Oklahoma bombing part of their loony conspiracy theory, I wonder how it will deal with the central accident-coincidence of the case. Timothy McVeigh was originally arrested for driving a car without license plates. And that's the way the world really works: stuff happens on the off chance, and then more stuff happens.

The striking similarity between the militia movement and cults is in their joint desire to simplify the world: It's all a plot; it's all a design.

They bend reality beyond all hope of recognition in an effort to avoid the frightening possibility that nobody is very much in charge.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Copyright 1995 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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Molly Ivins