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Is America on the Verge of Theocracy? 4 Fundamentalist Ideologies Threatening U.S. Liberty

Extremists shape American politics to unabashedly pursue legislative policies that favor the rich and punish the poor.

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Religious Fundamentalism

The second fundamentalism is seen in a religious fervor embraced by a Republican Party that not only serves up creationism instead of science, but substitutes unthinking faith for critical reason and intolerance for a concern with and openness toward others. This is a deeply disturbing trend in which the line between the state and religion is being erased as radical Christians and evangelicals embrace and impose a moralism on Americans that is largely bigoted, patriarchal, uncritical and insensitive to real social problems such as poverty, racism, the crisis in health care and the increasing impoverishment of America's children. Instead of addressing these problems, a flock of dangerous and powerful religious fanatics, who have enormous political clout, are waging a campaign to ban same-sex marriages, undermine scientific knowledge, eliminate important research initiatives such as those involving embryonic stem cells, deny the human destruction of the ecological system, overturn Roe v. Wade and ban contraceptives for women. This Taliban-like moralism now boldly translates into everyday cultural practices and political policies as right-wing evangelicals live out their messianic view of the world. For instance, in the last decade, conservative pharmacists have refused to fill prescriptions for religious reasons. Mixing medicine, politics and religion means that some women are being denied birth control pills or any other product designed to prevent conception; sex education in some cases has been limited to "abstinence only" programs inspired by faith-based institutions; and scientific research challenging these approaches has disappeared from government web sites. But the much-exalted religious fundamentalism touted by fanatics such as Santorum and many of his Tea Party followers does more than promote a disdain for critical thought and reinforce retrograde forms of homophobia and patriarchy. It also inspires a wave of criticism and censorship against all but the most sanitized facets of popular culture. Remember the moral outrage of the religious right over the allegedly homoerotic representations attributed to the animated cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants. There was also the conservative Texas lawmaker who jumped onto the moral bandwagon by introducing a bill that would put an end to "sexually suggestive" performances by cheerleaders at sports events and other extracurricular competitions.

Educational Fundamentalism

The third, related anti-democratic dogma is a virulent form of anti-intellectualism visible in the relentless attempt on the part of the Obama administration and his Republican Party allies to destroy critical education as a foundation for an engaged citizenry and a vibrant democracy. The attack on all levels of education is evident in the attempts to corporatize education, standardize curricula, privatize public schooling and use the language of business as a model for governance. It is equally evident in the ongoing effort to weaken the autonomy of higher education, undercut the power of faculty and turn full-time academic jobs into contractual labor. Public schools are increasingly reduced to training grounds and modeled after prisons - with an emphasis on criminalizing student behavior and prioritizing security over critical learning. Across the board, educators are now viewed largely as deskilled technicians, depoliticized professionals, paramilitary forces, hawkers for corporate goods or money and grant chasers.

At the same time as democracy is removed from the purpose and meaning of schooling, those larger educational forces in the culture are handed over to a small group of corporate interests. The dominant media engage in a form of public pedagogy that appears to legitimate dominant power rather than hold it accountable to any ethical or political standard. Operating in tandem with market fundamentalism, the dominant media deteriorate into a combination of commercialism, propaganda, crude entertainment and an obsession with celebrity culture. Giant media conglomerates such as Fox News have largely become advertising appendages for dominant political and corporate interests. Under the sway of such interests, the media neither operate in the interests of the public good nor provide the pedagogical conditions necessary for producing critical citizens or defending a vibrant democracy. Instead, as Robert McChesney and John Nichols have pointed out, concentrated media depoliticize the culture of politics, commercially carpet bomb citizens and denigrate public life. Such media restrict the range of views to which people have access and, as a result, do a disservice to democracy by stripping it of the possibility for debate, critical exchange and civic engagement. Rather than perform an essential public service, they become the primary pedagogical tool for promoting a culture of consent and conformity in which citizens are misinformed and public discourse is debased. As the critical power of education within various public spheres is reduced to the official discourse of compliance, conformity and reverence, it becomes more difficult for the American public to engage in critical debates, translate private considerations into public concerns and recognize the distortions and lies that underlie much of current government policy. Really, how else is one to explain the popularity of certified liars such as Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, the entire Fox network and Rush Limbaugh?