While watching the riders at a 4-H horse show today (my daughter is a 4-H member), I started considering the role that religion plays in people’s everyday lives. I don’t live in the most religious area of the country (South-Central Pennsylvania), but even so, on my commute to and from work, a total drive time of about an hour, I can count twelve churches, seven church signs at township borders, a church-run thrift store, and up until about a month ago, a “Jesus is the only way to God” billboard… and that’s a drive that’s mostly highway and rural farmland.
Thinking about the social events I attend, the work I do,Â and the conversations I have, it’s worth noting how little of a role religion plays, at least on the surface. At the horse show today, it was all fun and games: costume contests, relay races, apple bobbing, and the like. Everyone was having a terrific time, the weather was gorgeous, the horses were all behaving, and the conversations were light-hearted and good-natured. There was no mention of God, no intrusion of religion, no proselytizing… nothing. There were, perhaps, a few gasps of “Oh my God!” when a horse gave an unexpected buck or a rider lost balance enough to give a scare to the crowd, but I saw no bowed heads in silent prayer and certainly no obvious prayer circles, invoking heavenly protection from the forces of gravity on airborne, equine-launched riders.
It was a secular event. Most activities, for the vast majority of Americans, are secular activities: PTO meetings, birthday parties, book clubs, company meetings, family get-togethers, horse shows, sporting events, movie nights, grocery shopping, gardening, housework, fishing… the list goes on forever. The biggest display of religion that you’re likely to find at these types of activities is, perhaps, saying a prayer before eating. Your mileage may vary somewhat depending upon where in the country you live, but generally speaking, religion is only at the forefront at religious events like church services, funerals, and Saturday morning, door-knocking proselytizing by groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Almost all other religious activity is private… personal… internal.
Why, then, does the religious right insist on foisting their religious proclivities on others? Why lobby to ban gay marriage? Why insist on inserting Christian-specific clauses in legislation? Why put monuments of the Ten Commandments on government property? Why put up billboards that go well beyond advertising a religious organization, but condemn anyone whose belief differs from their own?
I don’t know the answer. I can only speculate.
There is, of course, the altruistic ideal of saving the unsaved masses from a lifetime of eternal torment in Hell. Perhaps some are motivated by that, but I doubt if it can account for the massive attempt of the religious right to assimilate all the unbelievers.
I think a more likely cause is the self-righteousness of fundamentalist religion… the unwavering faith that, as believers, they are, indeed, divinely special in the eyes of an almighty creator and are therefore granted unique privileges and special consideration in this world. They are overtaken by the notion that they are favored by God and therefore have righteous superiority and holy authority over the lives of others… and the infinite wisdom and enlightenment of their deity to decide what is best for everyone in public and in private.
Keep in mind that I’m not referring to those believers who quietly go about their business, say their prayers, attend their church services, and are privately devout. I’m talking about the minority of believers who are outward fundamentalists and vociferously insist that the rest of us fall in line, do what we’re told, and worship in the exact way they tell us… and respect their authority. They’re the ones who would turn our country into a theocratic nightmare, banish all non-believers (or “different” believers), and tell the scientists to back up the bible… or else.
They don’t like that religion is irrelevant in almost all the activities in which other people participate. It’s almost as if they’re secretly jealous and want to cover it up by proclaiming their beliefs to be the right ones… the important ones… the only ones. They want their religion to be everywhere, not just in religious activities, but in secular activities as well. If we let them, they’ll do it, too.
…and ruin a perfectly good horse show.