Why Are Politicians Pandering to the Religious Right?

America's politics and religion are increasingly susceptible to biased journalism. This epidemic of misinformation is perhaps best demonstrated by the rise of Fox News, an organization that has garnered substantial ratings while discarding journalistic ethics in order to spread a hardline conservative and religious agenda. Media organizations such as Fox News, Drudge Report, and the Washington Times marginalize the progressive and secular communities by dismissing their platforms as inherently evil. This type of behavior only contributes to the heavily partisan nature of politics and religion in America, and prevents people from discussing their differing ideas in a reasonable and open-minded manner.

Regrettably, the influence of conservative radio, television, and internet publications, together with the consolidation of the mainstream media into corporations like Clear Channel and CBS, has effectively removed most independent liberal voices from our national discourse. Now voters are becoming ever more disconnected from issues that impact them most while politics have lurched sharply rightward. This manipulation has been repeated so often that voters have become convinced of its legitimacy, and have shifted their opinions to fall more in line with what they are hearing on Fox News and the like. As such, Americans are voting more conservatively, as shown by the recent rise of the Tea Party.

And as voters change their views, the political parties are adjusting their party platforms accordingly. Democrats now encompass a centrist to center-right political philosophy, while Republicans embrace a right wing agenda drenched in religious political dogma. The practical effect of this shift is a denial of liberal ideals, and a limited choice in the ballot booth between right wing extremism and modest conservatism.

This shift toward the extreme is not limited to politics and governance. Our nation's religious culture has experienced much of the same shift toward radicalism, as seen by the rise of religious fundamentalist organizations such as the Family Research Council, Eagle Forum, and Focus on the Family. This radicalization of religious citizens serves to weaken interfaith cooperation and understanding, which goes against the heritage of religious tolerance upon which this nation was founded.

Not surprisingly, this religious radicalization also leads to prejudice against nontheists, who are stereotyped by the conservative and religious media as immoral and unethical. This demonization of the nonreligious polarizes Americans and stigmatizes progressive religion, much like the invalidation of political liberalism. Such political conservatism and religious regressivism encouraged by the media is producing the most extreme candidates for public office seen in decades. Conservative candidates are now blatantly anti-science, anti-government, and generally in favor of blurring church-state separation.

Thankfully, the sizeable demographic of secular Americans are growing tired of this recent trend and are coming out of the closet, organizing at every level, and starting to stand up for themselves. Secularists, atheists, humanists, and free-thinkers of every sort have realized that the views pushed by media organizations and supported by conservative candidates are patently undemocratic and harmful to the well-being of our nation. Nontheists' objection to this political and religious fundamentalism comes not from disbelief in a deity, but from the understanding that extremist dogma of all sorts is dangerous, especially in someone entrusted to govern.

Political candidates should aim to improve the quality of life for the citizens of this nation, not impose a specific system of rigid morality upon them. The media should be the people's ally in providing fair consideration of differing political positions, and not an extension of one side's public relations efforts. Our history is steeped in diverse political and religious ideas, but the tolerance of differences and the desire to work toward the common good are important American values.

This new age of fanatical conservatism and fundamentalist religion allied with big media threatens that very tolerance and mutual goodwill by ostracizing those who do not subscribe to their zealous outlook. Such actions are blatantly anti-American. If we cannot count upon the media to uncover such manipulation, we all must take up the burden to educate ourselves and ensure that reason and compassion are values upon which this nation is governed.