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The Biggest Threats We Face From Conservative Religion

Our economy runs on the fossil fuels of oil, gas and coal, but our society runs on the fossil fuel of religion.

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The deepest irony is that the religious right's rigid opposition to contraception and sex education hasn't produced a more stable or healthier society, but has resulted in the opposite. Among Western nations, the United States has the highest divorce rate, the highest teen pregnancy rate, and the highest rate of STD infection; and within the United States, the highest rates of these social ills are found among the highly conservative, highly religious states usually referred to as the Bible Belt. Meanwhile, a 1999 study by conservative Christian pollster George Barna found that atheists as a group have lower divorce rates than virtually all Christian denominations, including Baptists, Pentecostals, born-agains, and evangelicals.

And just as religious conservatives want to intrude into the beginning of life, they seek to exert control over its end as well. Many conservative Christian denominations, especially the Catholic church, want to ban not just active euthanasia, in which a terminally ill person is administered drugs that cause a painless death, but even passive euthanasia, in which life-extending treatment is withheld from a person who's terminally ill so that nature can take its course. Instead, these churches argue that a person who is alive must be kept alive, regardless of how badly they're suffering, regardless of whether there's any hope of recovery, regardless even of whether the person wants to continue treatment. As one Roman Catholic website puts it, "Human beings do not have the right to decide when we die." Another religious anti-euthanasia group adds that "even if that life is full of suffering... [w]e have no right to terminate life."

In all these incidents, a broader trend is visible. Religious conservatives oppose abortion, oppose birth control, oppose gay adoption, oppose same-sex marriage, oppose euthanasia -- in short, they want to control how people are born, how they marry, how they raise families, and how they die. During the most private and important moments of a human being's life, they want to barge in and demand adherence to their rigid, paternalistic creed. Again, because their unwavering religious belief has led them to the blind certainty that they know best how life should be lived, they have no qualms in seeking to intrude upon the lives of others at the most important and personal moments.

There's one more threat that needs to be mentioned. Despite the outrages upon human dignity that they've caused, none of these beliefs directly threaten the future of the human species as a whole. But there is one that does. This is the most frightening and dangerous religious belief of all, the most potentially catastrophic of all the fossil fuels, and it's alive and virulent today: the belief that the apocalypse is coming soon, and that this is a good thing.

A poll taken in 2002 found that 59 percent of Americans expect the events in the Bible's book of Revelation to come literally true in the future. In other words, almost six in 10 Americans believe that sometime in the near future, the world will be destroyed. That's what the second coming of Jesus Christ implies in Christian theology: global disaster and catastrophe, the deaths of hundreds of millions, and a day in which "the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Peter 3:10). A large number of believers are looking forward to this event and believe it's a desirable outcome. And when people truly and sincerely believe this, their actions will follow suit: either treating the planet where we all live as if it were of no consequence, or worse, taking steps to start this world-destroying war themselves.

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