Longing for the Rapture (Redux)

[I’m feeling lazy and uninspired today, so I’m republishing this post, originally written back in February, which examines why fundamentalism is bad for America, in addition to the obvious reasons regarding the oppression of the non-fundie Christian faithful and the non-religious. It seems as pertinent today as when I wrote it, if not more so.]

Earlier today, we were talking about the Rapture, and there were some jokes about how it can’t come soon enough, if it means ridding the country of Christian fundamentalists. Thinking about it this evening, however, I began to contemplate how far-reaching the effects of the puritanical hold they currently have on American politics actually are. It’s more than attacking gay rights; it’s more than attempting to blur the line between church and state; it’s more than trying to eradicate abortion rights; it’s so, so much more. The trend toward religious values (which are, I would like to note, not the only or even remotely the most American set of values one might hold) is subverting intellectualism, and indeed, if further pursued, will undermine the very things that afforded America the superpower status that these same people depend on to wage the wars they so rabidly support.

Yesterday, it was reported that British regulators had granted a license to create cloned human embryos for research, specifically the exploration for a cure to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. Britain joined Korea and China, who have also granted research groups the permission to do this particular type of stem cell research. The methodology they intend to use sounds fascinating and ground-breaking, and our government has no interest in doing the same. Though President Bush likes to talk about how America must facilitate a culture of life, it is merely a nod to his anti-abortion, anti-stem cell supporters, and he seems to have little interest in bettering the culture for the already living.

Here, it is illegal to create cloned human embryos with federal money, though a few groups may turn to private funding, and California recently passed a measure that would allow state funding of human embryo cloning and related research. But having to jump through these hoops when the governments of other countries are wholly supporting such research puts American scientists at a distinct disadvantage.

We have always been on the cutting edge of new technologies, but now we turn our backs on the advancements that will define the twenty-first century, stepping away from progress and turning instead to the imaginary tradition of a governing Judeo-Christian ethic, forged only in the small minds of religious zealots, rather than any actual history. The rest of the world passes us by.

It is among these groups of fools that you will also find the insistent tendencies toward isolationism and the uncompromising xenophobia upon which this administration depended so heavily in securing and maintaining support for their “war on terror.” And thus, after 9/11, our immigration policies became so stringent that we are now seeing a steady decrease in international student enrollment at our universities. The wait time for student visas and required embassy interviews have become prohibitive to apply for study in America, while other English-speaking countries (Britain, Canada, Australia) have increasingly made the application process for foreign students easier.

Such policies may make red staters feel more secure, but in the long term, this will have devastating consequences for America…and Americans. The revolutionary technology development, medical advancements, and research that was always a hallmark of American educational institutions was attributable in large part to attracting the best and the brightest from around the world, who supplemented our homegrown talent. Now, we throw up roadblocks, and they find another adopted home to fund the explorations of their deep and valuable dreams.

What the supporters of such policies fail to see is that democracy is spread through better methods than war, and foreign students who studied in America took their experiences home with them. Inviting scores of international students to America has been, without much fanfare, one of the most successful methods of diplomacy ever conceived. As it falls by the wayside, so too do hopes of sharing the best parts of America with the world in exchange for the simple opportunity to share our schools, our culture, our lives.

We have also reduced our own exposure to new cultures through the hand we once extended to our guests. With so few Americans having the means or desire to travel abroad, shutting off avenues to those willing to bring their cultures to us is nothing short of lunacy. The truth is, it was a mutually beneficial arrangement, and we have shit all over it in the name of a counterfeit safety.

In the end, we are not protecting ourselves from anything but amplified ignorance. Too many are seeking solace in the form of evangelical religion—where there is to be found a clearly delineated sense of right and wrong. And while there may be truth to the notion that comfort can be found in a world of black and white, without any of the hazy grays that demand thought and nuance and caution, such comfort will be fleeting.

It’s no wonder they, too, hope for the Rapture to promptly come and take them away. The human mind wasn’t built to ignore gray, and the vigilance required to hold it at bay must be exhausting.

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